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16 September 2013 @ 09:55 am
The “after” moment in stories  

Writing thought of the day, as I work through the final scenes of the almost-final draft of a book.

It’s rarely the moment when sad things happen in a story that makes me cry, as a reader or as a writer. The moment that gets me is the moment when the sad things are integrated into the larger world of the story–by being redeemed, by not being redeemed, by showing how their consequences ripple out, sometimes by simply being acknowledged. It’s the moment when some books say “it’s all going to be okay,” and in other books say “it will never be okay but it’s going to be, anyway.”

As a reader I know this moment by a tightening of the chest, or a sad/happy sigh, or a clicking of something into place. Or because, well, I suddenly want to cry, even though the thing that I would have expected to make me cry is pages and pages (or even chapters and chapters) past.

As a writer … all three Bones of Faerie books, as well as Thief Eyes, have a moment like this for me. I won’t say which moment–because every reader’s experience is different, and there’s no reason my moment should be your moment just because I wrote the book in question.

But the thing about these moments are, they’re all after moments, and not during moments.

It’s not always about tears. As a reader, I find that moments of laughter, or happy sighing, or a faint catch-in-the-throat, or any number of other kinds of emotional release can fill this same place in a book. It’s about a certain sort of emotional completion that can’t always happen while an emotional event is still in progress.

This is, I think, part of why denouements matter. No one wants a book to drag on too long, but it’s just as dangerous for a book to end too soon, because while the outward plot might be complete, the emotional arc needs another beat or two in order to land in the right place. Getting that beat is trickier than it seems.

And knowing where to stop a book is, in the end, as hard as knowing where to start one.

Mirrored from Janni Lee Simner / Desert Dispatches.

metteharrisonmetteharrison on September 16th, 2013 05:56 pm (UTC)
Very wise about the denouement. I'll have to think about whether I feel emotional then or not. But if it goes on too long, it sucks all the power out.
Janni Lee Simner: duckstoryjanni on September 16th, 2013 06:18 pm (UTC)
Yes. Too much denouement takes all the emotional power away, and makes you feel like you stayed with the story too long.

It's tricky, especially since I find there are usually more plot threads that could be resolved than emotional tension to support resolving them all.
asakiyume: feathers on the lineasakiyume on September 17th, 2013 04:59 am (UTC)
I think my emotional journey in stories (both read and written) is somewhat different, but I definitely agree about the importance of denouement. There needs to be some time for the significance of what's happened to resonate. Otherwise, readers just feel shellshocked.
marycatellimarycatelli on September 26th, 2013 02:26 am (UTC)
To dismiss the reader "in calm of mind, all passion spent" the denouement must be long enough to discharge the drama of the climax.

Easy to overdo, of course, but still -- long enough.