Creating Successful Conflicts, Climaxes, and Resolutions by Ayesha Hamid

In order for a story to be successful, its writer must move readers by creating a sense of conflict and resolution.  The writing community agrees that prose must have conflict, which works up to a climax.  The climax is the point after which the protagonist’s challenge resolves itself in one way or the other; characters’ lives will be simpler or more difficult, happy or sad, successful or failed as a result of what happens at this juncture.  We all face these moments, in our lives, whether they be getting a job, buying a house, getting married or divorced, or having children.  These decisions and events are the forks in the road.  Choosing one way over the other has profound and long-last effects on the way our lives unfold.

Since this ebb and flow mirrors life, the reader will naturally search for it in prose.  It can be argued that fiction, or any writing for that matter, will not be convincing if it lacks this rhythmic movement.  This essay will show how and why writers should create a variety of conflict and resolution in their work.  Sometimes, a simple conflict, climax, and resolution scenario is not the most effective way to tell a story.

A story does not necessarily have to “build up” to a climax; this is to say that there does not need to be a linear progression into a climax. As some of the upcoming examples will demonstrate, the climax can sometimes be found in the beginning of a novel with the exposition, rising action, and falling action taking place later.  Instead of one major climax, maybe the protagonist will be confronted by a group of minor conflicts and resolutions.  This may be the case if the character is dealing with an issue which follows him or her throughout life.  Perhaps the protagonist will deal with something that is isolating, or maybe a character has lived through something that does not allow that character to recover.

I’ve explored the following books, which all create conflicts and resolutions with expertise.  Although all novels have resolutions, it is important to note that not all resolutions are happy or convenient.  Some may experience convenient resolutions to their conflicts while others do not.  The fact that not all authors create resolutions that are convenient or “happy” makes these works more realistic and oftentimes more compelling.  After all, in real life, not everything leads to a happy ending.  Even in movies, it is oftentimes the more complicated story, without a happy ending, which is the most moving.  Good examples of such movies are Million Dollar Baby, Titanic, and My Sister’s Keeper.

Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey is an important work to consider because in the beginning of the novel, the climax has already happened; an accident occurred on a well-known bridge, the bridge of San Luis Rey, and killed four of the book’s central characters.  The writer goes on to consider the accident and what it means.  Everything that happens from the beginning to the end of the story revolves around these deaths, the histories of those involved in the accident, and the characters’ lives before they died.  The climax is the starting point of the novel and a skillfully drawn-out exposition and resolution make up the rest of the book.  When dealing with profound subjects such as fate, and the nature of humanity, as Wilder does, it can make sense to have a nonlinear movement in the story.

Another example of a book with effectively creates conflicts, climaxes, and resolutions is Traci Slatton’s Immortal, which is a story of survival.  The main character Luca is different from everyone else around him; many years elapse, but Luca, unlike others, ages very slowly.  For as long as he can remember, Luca has lived on the streets.  The overwhelming conflict in Luca’s life is his uniqueness; he hides and attempts to escape scrutiny but is scrutinized nonetheless, he searches for answers, which elude him, and he is isolated in a mortal world.

In Immortal, the reader is also introduced to a major conflict and climax in the beginning of the book.  Luca is living on the street with a trusted companion, Massimo.  Massimo betrays him, and this betrayal changes Luca’s life profoundly; after he is accused of theft, Luca is sent to live in a brothel where he is held prisoner and prostituted.  The reader is shocked and drawn in immediately.  The author’s decision to place a major conflict right in the beginning of the book is a good one.  Immortal is not a story in which the protagonist is trying to create an ordinary and fulfilling life; this resolution will evade him all his life.  The purpose of his existence, to find understanding, will also evade him for most of his life.  When dealing with a book that will not resolve conveniently or happily, it can be effective to introduce conflict right in the beginning of the story, as Slatton does in Immortal.  This sets the reader up for the character’s bleak future, and sparse moments of happiness.

There are a variety of ways to create successful conflicts, climaxes, and resolutions in a story.  Although it is often taught that an exposition should lead to a climax, this does not always have to be the case.  Writers can create a more convincing story by veering away from the simple conflict, climax -resolution formula.  To figure out what works best, the writer should consider their story and create a conflict, climax, and resolution that are unique.  Sometimes, an author may choose to have a major conflict or climax resolve in the beginning of the story like in The Bridge of San Luis Rey. This might be a good option for stories which will not necessarily have a convenient or happy resolution.  Others may choose to have a conflict run throughout the story, as is the case with Immortal.  This may also be a good idea for woks which will not have a happy or convenient ending.  One of the best ways a writer can improve his or her judgment on what works best, is to read as much as possible.  The more a writer reads, the more he or she will understand what type of exposition, conflict, climax, and resolution will work best for their work.  The decision on how to work conflicts and resolutions into the story is unique to the story being told, and when done with careful thought, can make the story more profound, compelling, and interesting to the reader.

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