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What is Resolution in Literature?

    what is resolution in literature

    There’s nothing more disappointing than a story with a bad ending, right? That’s why resolutions are such an important aspect of a story. This guide will cover everything you need to know about resolutions in literature, from a deep dive into the term’s definition to a breakdown of tips for helping students understand the concept and its role in plot development, and more.

    Resolution Definition

    In literature, the resolution is the part of the narrative where the story’s main conflict is resolved and the story comes to an end. By this point, all of the readers’ lingering questions should be answered and any loose ends tied up. Generally, resolutions provide readers (and characters) with a sense of closure—unless the story purposefully leads readers into thought-provoking ambiguity, a sequel, or a follow-up plot.

    Some resolutions take pages or chapters to roll out, while others wrap up in a few paragraphs or sentences. Certain genres tend to lean toward specific patterns of resolution, however, there are no “set rules” for how a resolution must unfold. Regardless, a strong resolution leaves the story feeling complete on some level—even if it’s not the way the reader wanted it to turn out. The main questions are answered, conflicts are resolved, and the characters’ fates are revealed.

    Resolution Pronunciation

    The word “resolution” is pronounced as “rez-uh-loo-shun,” with an emphasis on the third syllable.

    Resolution vs. Denouement: What’s the Difference?

    While the term “denouement” may sound fancy, it simply refers to a story’s ending —which is typically where we see the plot’s resolution unfold. More specifically, both terms “resolution” and “denouement” refer to the section after a story’s falling action. It’s where loose ends are tied up, remaining questions are answered, and the story reaches a sense of closure.

    While some may specify that a resolution is the part of the story where the main conflict is resolved, whereas the denouement is the aftermath or consequences of said resolution, the terms are often used interchangeably when talking about plot.

    Understanding Plot: When Does Resolution Occur?

    Traditionally speaking, a story’s resolution refers to the final part of the plot structure. It comes after the story’s big climactic moment and starts to fall into place with the falling action (no pun intended). There may be mini-resolutions occurring throughout a story if smaller conflicts are resolved. However, even these serve the purpose of gaining momentum and building towards the larger, overarching resolution of the plot’s main conflict or plotline.

    To fully grasp the role of a story’s resolution, it’s important to understand the various pot elements that come before the story’s end:

    • Exposition: The exposition sets the stage for the narrative, introducing the characters and setting while laying the groundwork for the main conflict. Without exposition, we wouldn’t have a solid start to any story, let alone a satisfying ending.
    • Rising Action: This is where things heat up for the protagonists as they face various obstacles and challenges. The rising action turns up the heat on the central conflict, building more momentum and anticipation for readers.
    • Climax: During the climax, the protagonist comes face to face with their biggest challenge, forcing them to make a critical decision or take decisive action. Whatever happens during the climax starts shaping the story’s ultimate resolution.
    • Falling Action: After the climactic turning point, the falling action gradually eases the tension as the consequences of the climax unfold. This phase contributes to the overall closure of the story, laying the groundwork for the story’s ending.
    • Resolution (Denouement): Hallelujah, we’ve reached closure! The resolution brings closure to the central conflict, providing answers to lingering questions and resolving any remaining uncertainties for both characters and readers.

    Long story short, a satisfying ending would be difficult to achieve without the other essential elements of a story plot.

    What is the Purpose of Resolution in a Story?

    A resolution plays an important role in any story’s plot, serving as the closure to the main conflict(s) and the story as a whole. Without a resolution, a story would feel unfinished.

    Authors incorporate resolutions into their stories for many reasons, including:

    • To provide a sense of closure to the narrative, resolving any lingering questions for readers and bringing the characters’ journeys to a plausible end.
    • To hint at a follow-up plot or imply what is in store for the characters’ futures, especially if there is going to be a sequel or extension to the story in some way.
    • To highlight the themes of the story, often revealing the author’s commentary on a broader theme or topic.
    • To offer deeper insights into characterization, specifically the characters’ growth and development in the wake of the climax.
    • To prompt readers to reflect on the events of the story and draw their own conclusions, filling in the blanks with inferences as needed.
    • To bring the story to a satisfying end—though what’s “satisfying” to the writer is not always satisfying to the readers! (Hey, we’ve all been a bit disappointed by a story’s ending before, right?) 

    How to Identify the Resolution in a Story

    Identifying the resolution of a story can sometimes be straightforward, while in other cases, it may require a bit more analysis. Here are a few elements you can pay attention to as you read to help you identify the resolution:

    1. Think About the Main Conflict: The resolution typically addresses the main conflict or central problem of the story. Look for signs that the main conflict is resolved or reaching a conclusion.
    2. Check for Loose Ends Being Tied Up: In the resolution, loose ends from the plot should start getting wrapped up. Look for any lingering questions or subplots that are (finally) answered or resolved.
    3. Look for a Sense of Transformation: A resolution often reveals changes in characters’ lives or the story’s overall situation. For example, characters may achieve their goals, learn important lessons, or experience significant growth.
    4. Consider the Tone and Mood: The resolution often shifts the overall tone and mood of the story. If the story has been building towards a happy ending, the resolution is likely to be uplifting and satisfying. Conversely, if the story is mysterious and suspenseful, the resolution may have an ambiguous tone.
    5. Spot Structural Cues: If you know the general plot structure, you can identify the resolution by identifying the other elements of the story. For example, you know the resolution is going to follow the climax and falling action. Additionally, look for chapter breaks or scene transitions that indicate the movement from falling action to resolution.
    6. Feel a Sense of Finality: The resolution typically brings a sense of closure to the story. Therefore, if the story feels complete and the character’s journey comes to an end, it’s likely a sign of the resolution.

    Tips for Teaching Resolution

    Use these tips to scaffold learning and keep students engaged as they dig deeper into the concept of plot resolution: 

    • Use Graphic Organizers: Story maps and plot diagrams can help students visualize the entire plot, including the resolution. Additionally, these graphic organizers come in handy when trying to keep track of plot elements of longer or more complex texts.
    • Start with Short Stories: Select high-interest short stories with strong plot structure and clear resolutions, guiding students through an analysis of plot elements in a condensed narrative before diving into a full-length novel.
    • Analyze Various Mentor Texts: help students understand the various types of resolutions by analyzing excerpts from different mentor texts. Have students note similarities and differences in the structure of the resolution from story to story.
    • Utilize Multimedia Resources: Illustrate the concept of resolution by sharing engaging videos and movie clips with the class. Using examples familiar to students can help them conceptualize the role of resolution in literature.
    • Encourage Critical Thinking: Push students to think deeper about a story’s resolution by asking open-ended questions about the story’s ending and its implications for the characters and readers.
    • Get Creative: Encourage creative writing activities where students can practice narrative writing and apply their knowledge of plot resolution. For example, after reading and identifying the other plot elements of a short story, have students write their own ending.
    • Make Real-Life Connections: Connect the idea of resolution to real-life scenarios using examples such as cause-and-effect and problem-solution situations. This activity will help make the concept of resolution more relatable to students.
    • Think About the Bigger Message: Have students think about author’s craft when analyzing a story’s resolution. Consider what the author might want readers to take away from the story, as the resolution often serves as the author’s final statement or message.

    Resolution Examples from Literature

    1. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

    While it’s not an example of a happy ending, Romeo and Juliet is a strong example of a resolution. Following the tragic deaths of the titular characters, the resolution begins when the Montague and Capulet families become aware of the young lovers’ deaths. While the tension between the two families builds throughout the entire play, keeping the “starstruck lovers” apart, the tragedy forces them to face the consequences of their long-standing vendetta.

    As Friar Laurence explains how this tragedy came to be and Prince Escalus curses both families for their role in the devastation, the characters (and audience) know the age-old feud is also to blame. Though not your typical “happy ending,” Shakespeare’s beloved tragedy provides readers with a sense of closure as the families vow to end their feud in honor of Romeo and Juliet.

    Students will love this creative Romeo and Juliet one-pager project.

    2. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

    Unlike Romeo and Juliet, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has a feel-good resolution in which protagonist Ebenezer Scrooge goes from being cold-hearted to compassionate. The resolution follows his encounter with the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. When Scrooge wakes up on Christmas morning, it’s as if he has a new attitude toward the meaning of Christmas and life itself. He acts with kindness and generosity towards those around him, especially the Cratchits, showcasing his transformation into a new man.

    Scrooge’s transformation is the hallmark of this story’s happy ending, a resolution that serves as a reminder of the power of forgiveness, second chances, and the holiday spirit. By making Scrooge’s story one of redemption, Dickens delivers an uplifting message about the potential for positive change and the power of empathy toward others. In the end, readers are left with a sense of hope and reminded of the importance of kindness and generosity during the holiday season and beyond.

    Access my 5-week complete novella study for A Christmas Carol.

    3. 1984 by George Orwell

    1984 by George Orwell focuses on Winston Smith’s struggle against the oppressive regime of the Party and its leader, Big Brother. Throughout the dystopian novel, Winston rebels against the Party’s totalitarian control, fighting for his individuality and freedom—that is until the climactic moment when he is arrested, imprisoned, and tortured by the Thought Police. In the end, he breaks down, becomes a shell of himself, and ultimately betrays his one love, Julia. 

    While not a happy ending, all of the loose ends are tied up, and the readers’ burning question of, “Will Winston be able to “beat” the oppressive Party?” is answered. (The answer? No.)  Unfortunately, readers realize that Winston loses all sense of autonomy and becomes one of the Party’s obedient followers. While it isn’t the ending reader’s hope for Winston, it does underscore Orwell’s commentary on the dangers of unchecked power and the importance of individual freedom and identity.

    Check out this list of more thought-provoking dystopian novels.

    Additional Resources for Teaching Resolution and Denouement

    Identify all of the major plot elements, including the resolution, using my free editable plot diagram template.

    Have students analyze the resolution of these short stories perfect for teaching plot elements.

    Share this interesting post digging into the craft of creating a new world with a story’s resolution

    Engage your students with the following videos:

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