Resolutions: why they matter to stories

2019 is right around the corner and the time for the obligatory New Year’s resolution has come. Did you make your’s last year, will you do so this year? Who knows–I hope you succeed–but regardless, life will go on.

Resolutions: why they matter to stories - The true drivers of plot and why they're important

This is not true in stories, where resolutions perpetuate everything. Resolutions are the fuel, the driving force–they are the plot. Without them, readers will lose interest.

I’m using ‘resolution’ to describe the decision to take action which a character makes at the beginning of the story. It’s not their goal, but it may lead them towards the goal. It is the unknown element of whether or not the character(s) will stick to their resolution that keeps the story going.

So yes, I’m basically describing the path that the main character chooses after they’re done refusing the ‘call to action’. In the traditional story ‘recipe’, the character first refuses to take action, before they resolve to carry through with it and find themselves dragged along a winding road towards the climax.

In The Monster Novel Structure Workbook by R. B. Fleetwood (amazing book), these actions start as reactions to the events happening up until the midpoint when the main character pauses to think deeply on what they truly want and who they are–the ‘mirror moment’ when they take a good long look at themselves. After this moment they become the force that acts on the events. Dotted along the entire story are moments of peril where the MC wonders about their resolution. Will they make it? Is it worth it? Should they quit?

And it works. Because it’s relatable. We do it every day.


The Hunger Games

The resolution: Whilst Katniss’s decision to volunteer in place of her sister throws her into the action, it isn’t until Peeta professes his love on television for her that she makes a resolution. In my opinion, her initial reaction this information is the refusal of the call and her resolution is when she accepts it and uses it to gain the audience’s sympathy. Whilst the main goal is trying to survive, Katniss has no control over the games. Whereas her resolution to play the part of star-crossed lovers is. And it is one which she continually doubts and questions throughout both the first book and the rest of the trilogy.

The midpoint: Katniss accepts that she’s going to die.

Aza by me (I know, I know. But why not?)

The resolution: After Aza is forced to become the Keeper of the Egrets tribe, their sacred amulet is stolen. Her resolution is to track it down and show everyone that she really does care. Never having left the forest, strange villages and terrain give her many opportunities to feel like everything was a terrible idea and that she sucks.

The midpoint: Trapped in an underground cave, Aza reflects on the fact that whilst she may be doing this to restore the other’s faith in her, she’s also doing this because it’s her tribe.

Harry Potter

The resolution: Harry decides to believe Hagrid’s crazy notion that he’s a somebody–a magic somebody. He continues to believe once he arrives at Hogwarts, but he still has moments of doubt when wondering ‘why him?’

The midpoint: Harry literally looks in a mirror–Dumbledor’s mirror which shows him what he wants most in the world, something he thinks he can never have: a family.


I hope my ramblings today were at least mildly entertaining and that your dreams for the new year go smoothly. I’m sure mine won’t (to find an agent). But maybe it’s okay, and we should take a tip from our stories about what’s really important: it’s never the resolutions that matter, it’s the journey they take the character on.

Where will your resolutions take you?

Happy New Years!!

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