Saturday, April 20, 2013

Technical Topic -- When They Get It On and Story Structure

Elsewhere, someone asks
-- I'm paraphrasing here --

"Can I put my big consummation scene as the end of the story?"

I love to see the straightjacket sructure of genre Romance shaken up a little.  I really do.  But I had to be a bit discouraging about this.
This below is me being discouraging because I am just the slave and dogsbody of plotting structure.

Problem? -- Denouement resolves it
Romance genre books have a conflict, (often two conflicts -- one in the outer world, one in an inner, emotional world,) that keeps the H&H from their happy ending.

In plottingspeak, the scene where the conflicts come to a final, explosive resolution is the climax or denouement.

Digressing here: 

Dénouement is a French word meaning literally, the untying'.   
Dénouer = 'to untie'  Noer = knot.
Denouement seems to have entered the English language in the mid Eighteenth Century, before which we presumably didn't do this in our plots.

So, the resolution of about-all-conflict is the denouement scene.
And it comes near the end of the book because -- hey -- solve the conflict and the book is over.

To get a sense of how denouement works, pick thirty books off your keeper shelf. You know what the conflict/s are in each of these. Flip to the tail end and work your way backwards till you come to the moment these conflicts are resolved.

What does the author put in after that denouement?

All's well
After the denouement we generally get an 'all's well' scene or two, a return to normalcy, a tying up of any bits that weren't clear before, an epilog to show a happy future. And this part of the book is short, because the reader is already leaning forward in the chair, about to put the book down with a happy sigh and go fix a pot of tea.

In movies, we see denouement and falling-off ending very clearly.  When Luke blows up the Death Star, the next scene is a set-piece of him getting a medal. When the Disney Prince battles Teh Ebil and wins, the next scene is H&H riding off into the sunset.

Folks who watch more movies than I do would have better examples.

Does the Big Consummation scene belong after the denouement?
detailed consummation happening onstage

In straight Romance -- this isn't true of Erotica, of course -- a unique 'detailed consummation happening onstage' is a Big Deal Scene.
We expect emotional consequences of the First Sex Act.
We expect plot results.
We want to know what happens afterwards.
We are enthralled by it.

This emotional impact, this expectation of fallout and change, this sheer story 'size' of scene, make the First Big Sex suited to the onrushing torrent of the main plotline. This Great White Shark of a scene doesn't fit well into the little spray puddle that is the plot space after the denouement.


  1. Well, I see what you mean, and I think you are probably right for the most part. Still, I think there are cases where the actual consummation scene can be delayed to the end to good effect. A declaration of love, or even a realization of love, can provide a powerful denouement all by itself.

  2. Realization of love is a very excellent denouement.

    A perfectly justified 'Let's do the denouement in bed scene' is where copulation itself is story action. The inability to have sex IS the conflict of the book. There's sexual dysfunction to be cured. Fear to overcome. A lack of trust to resolve.
    The sex act is not gratuitous Tab A into Slot B. It's a dysfunction being dealt with onstage.
    That last scene of explicit sex is not to demonstrate the H&H can now have at. It's story action.

    In general, though, the long, explicit sex act that comes as a bagatelle at the end of the book strikes me as iffy.

    Anything can be done well. There are excellent books out there where copulation is necessary. It can't be removed without damaging the story. This is not 2000 words of mattress bouncing added at the end only because it would have closed the conflict if inserted earlier.

    But a First Sex Act without follow-up or consequences seems diminished. Seems a wasted opportunity. First Sex without further plot arising risks feeling gratuitous.

  3. First, your last sentence is brilliant.

    Second, what is that painting (title? artist?) of the two lovers kissing? At least, he looks as if he very much wants to be her lover. She looks as if the jury is still out on that question. Very passive, she is, which makes the picture unusual. I'd like to know the story behind it.

  4. Hi Beth --

    Any sentence that contains the Great White Shark is going to be a winner.

    That picture is Amos Cassioli's Paolo and Francesca. Their story is in Dante's Divine Comedy.

    The wiki here:

    I mostly chose it for the bright color and the nice composition ...

  5. Anonymous5:40 PM

    I really enjoy books that are different.. I love it when the h/h/ work together to resolve the conflict.. It's fun to get something you don't expect.. Any date on Pax's story.. my he is stubborn one!!

  6. I should work harder. I should work better. I just get so distracted by Real Life.

    They are still talking about the end of 2013 if I can just get the manuscript turned in, in time. They're being genuinely patient with me.

  7. I love your technical posts! :) Like a short little Master Class, and illustrated so nicely.

    1. You know how it is -- when you want to work something out in your own mind, there's nothing like trying to explain it to somebody else. These posts are mostly for me.

      It's the old, "Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man."

      Lots of times somebody comes back with a comment (or disagreement) that really makes me think. I love that.

  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  9. I read a book this weekend wherein the First Sex Scene was the last scene of the book. Since it's fresh in my mind, I can tell you the effect it had on me as a reader.

    All of the "business" of the story had been wrapped up. There was no more conflict, nothing left to DO, so I was packing up and getting ready to leave the theater, so to speak, as one does when the show's over and the real world beckons.

    It was not a good time to hit me up for a huge emotional investment like First Time Sex.

    I skimmed the final pages and thought, "Yeah, that's how it works, so what?"

    "So what?" is not a desirable reaction to any emotionally charged scene, and "So what?" is not the last thought you want to leave in a reader's mind when they finish your story, since that last impression is the one that sticks, so dropping a Big Deal scene after the finish line like it's an afterthought is basically the formula for double failure.

  10. I'm inclined to agree with you. A well-written sex scene is so powerful and significant it can be used to spark future action. Taping it to the end of the story discards a lot of possible motivation.

    I'm reading Balogh's 'Simply Magic' right now. The sex scene -- I guess it hit about 1/4 into the book -- was a dynamo that powered lots of plot action. Beautifully plotted.