Story Resolution: Create a Satisfying Ending for the Reader

What is a Story Resolution?

The story resolution shows the results of the protagonist’s decision in the CLIMAX. It is where the reader learns if the protagonist has made the right decision and watches as the she reaps the rewards or suffers the consequences of her decision. 

The resolution is the payoff the reader receives for empathizing with the protagonist and accompanying them on the journey to pursue their objects of desire.

The resolution must tie back to both the INCITING INCIDENT and CRISIS of the UNIT OF STORY. It if the fifth and final of the FIVE COMMANDMENTS OF STORY TELLING.

Story Resolution: Create a Satisfying Ending for the Reader

How to Build a Satisfying Story Resolution

The resolution is too often treated as an afterthought by the writer, which robs the reader of full cathartic experience with the story.

In order to provide a satisfying resolution in your story, you must consider the valence and consistency within the commandment.

2 Types of Resolution Valence

The valence of the resolution shows whether the decision in the CLIMAX worked out well for the protagonist or not. The resolution signals whether the story is prescriptive or cautionary.

1. Prescriptive

A prescriptive story ends in the positive for the protagonist. It proves that the climatic choice by the protagonist was the right one in the given context. 

These are the most popular stories because the reader gets to experience the positive emotions alongside the protagonist.

2. Cautionary

A cautionary story ends in the negative for the protagonist. It shows the climatic choice by the protagonist was the wrong one in the given context.

These are less popular because they force the reader to experience the pain of poor choices alongside the protagonist.

Complexity in Story Resolutions

To add complexity to stories, we often combine prescriptive and cautionary endings in one story. Perhaps the protagonist attains their want but not their need, or vice versa. Also, the protagonist could lose or sacrifice their external OBJECT OF DESIRE (what they want) while attaining their internal OBJECT OF DESIRE (what they need).  

We want to mix prescriptive and cautionary resolutions throughout our stories in the different UNITS OF STORYBEATS, TROPES, SCENES, SEQUENCES, and QUADRANTS.

Consistency in Story Resolutions

The FIVE COMMANDMENTS OF STORYTELLING within each UNIT OF STORY do not work independently of each other. Instead, they are interdependent, each building on the one that came before. 

The resolution for our UNIT OF STORY must resolve the question raised by the INCITING INCIDENT

The PROGRESSIVE COMPLICATIONS are obstacles and affordances to the protagonists goal for the unit of story, and must build in a logical but surprising way to the TURNING POINT, which triggers the CRISIS

Likewise, because a working CRISIS involves meaningful stakes, the resolution will play out very differently based on the choice made in the CLIMAX.

Analyzing Story Resolutions

When we analyze the resolution in the UNIT OF STORY, we can use these questions to determine the overall valence of the resolution and ensure it resonates with the reader by maintaining consistency with the stakes of the crisis.

  • Prescriptive or Cautionary? Identify whether the resolution is positive or negative. How did the choice in the CLIMAX work out for the protagonist? If there were mixed results, determine whether the resolution was, on balance, positive or negative.
  • How does it pay off the CRISIS? Explain how the stakes outlined in the CRISIS apply in the resolution. Ensure the end of the UNIT OF STORY follows through on the tradeoffs that arose in the CRISIS.

Examples of Resolutions

  • Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, global story
    • Prescriptive. Jim and his companions secure the treasure and leave for England. Silver escapes on the way, and Jim is done with adventures.
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, global story
    • Cautionary. Both Victor and the monster die as a result of their obsessions.
  • Persuasion by Jane Austen, Chapter 24, Scene 34
    • Prescriptive Anne’s happiness is complete and she enjoys true love with Frederick.
  • The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, Scene 2
    • Complex – Bilbo immediately regrets his decision so join the dwarves on their adventure. Bilbo gets his need to break free of his current life (Prescriptive) but loses out on his want of being safe and comfortable at home (Cautionary).

What’s Next After the Resolution?

The resolution is the fifth and final of the FIVE COMMANDMENTS OF STORYTELLING. Take the time to review the previous four — INCITING INCIDENT, PROGRESSIVE COMPLICATION TURNING POINT, CRISIS, and CLIMAX — then apply them by:

  • Analyzing Masterworks. Review all of the UNITS OF STORY in your favorite masterwork and identify the five commandments.
  • Reviewing Your Writing. Go through the UNITS OF STORY in your own writing and analyze all of the five commandments.

Additional Resources

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