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9.2 Suspense, resolution, and plot development

6 min readjanuary 28, 2023

ChristineLing

ChristineLing


AP English Literature 📚

145 resources
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Introduction

Hi! This is study guide 9.2. Here, we’ll expand on the importance of plot structure and development, both of which are topics we’ve looked at in previous study guides. We’ll look at how significant events contribute to the plot and create suspense, how conflict is created, and how resolutions are reached. The last concept we will touch on is what it’s like when a text has no resolution.
Let’s get started!

Significant Events

Significant events usually relate to the text’s main conflict, and serve as vivid examples of the conflicting ideologies and beliefs that are present within the story. These events can illuminate the internal struggles and tensions that drive the narrative, as characters are forced to confront and reconcile their differing values.

Examples

For instance, in George Orwell's "1984," the government's manipulation of history illustrates their complete disregard for truth and their prioritization of power over integrity. Similarly, in F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby," the lavish parties and decadent lifestyle of the wealthy characters demonstrate their prioritization of pleasure and material wealth over morality and ethics, ultimately leading to the novel's tragic outcome.
Another example could be found in J.D Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye" where Holden Caulfield's expulsion from his school and subsequent actions highlights his rejection of the adult world and its values, as he struggles to come to terms with the loss of innocence and the phoniness of the adult world.
These events serve to not only advance the plot, but also provide insight into the underlying themes and conflicts that shape the characters and their world. They allow the reader to understand the characters' motivations and the consequences of their actions.

Suspense

Suspense in narratives is the feeling of uncertainty or tension that a reader or viewer experiences as they follow a story. It is created by a combination of different elements such as plot, characterization, setting, and tone. One of the key ways to build suspense is through the use of significant events, arranged in a particular order. These events can be small or large, but they must be important enough to the story that they capture the reader or viewer's attention and create a sense of anticipation.
One example of a significant event that can build suspense is the introduction of a conflict or problem. This can be something as simple as a character losing their keys or something as complex as a global conspiracy. The introduction of a problem creates a sense of uncertainty. As the story progresses and these events unfold, the reader or viewer becomes increasingly invested in the outcome and the tension continues to build.

Arrangement of Events

The particular arrangement of significant events in a text can greatly contribute to suspense and anticipation in several ways.
Firstly, the order in which events are presented can create a sense of progression and build-up. For example, a story that starts with a small problem and gradually escalates to a larger conflict will create a sense of tension as the stakes become higher. This can also be achieved through the use of a non-linear narrative structure, where events are presented out of chronological order, creating a sense of mystery and uncertainty.
Secondly, the use of cliffhangers, a technique where a story ends on a suspenseful or dramatic note, can greatly contribute to anticipation. This is particularly effective when the cliffhanger is a significant event that leaves the reader or viewer with a sense of uncertainty and a desire to find out what happens next.
Thirdly, the use of red herrings, false clues or misleading information, can also contribute to anticipation. This technique is often used in mystery or crime fiction where the reader is led to believe one thing but is later revealed to be something else. This creates a sense of surprise and the reader is eager to find out the truth.
Finally, the use of foreshadowing, as previously mentioned, can also contribute to anticipation by giving the reader or viewer an idea of what might happen in the future. This can create a sense of expectation and encourage the reader or viewer to pay close attention to the story in order to understand the significance of the foreshadowed events.

How is Conflict Created?

In literature, the idea of an unseen character or preceding action can have a significant impact on the story and the characters within it. This concept is known as "unseen forces" and is often used to add complexity and conflict to a narrative.
For example, in F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby," the unseen character of Daisy Buchanan's husband, Tom, creates a significant conflict for the titular character, Gatsby. Gatsby is deeply in love with Daisy and is determined to win her back, but he is unaware of her marriage to Tom. This unseen force ultimately leads to Gatsby's tragic downfall.

Resolution

The resolution of a story is the part of the plot that comes after the climax, in which the conflicts and tensions of the story are resolved. It’s where the protagonist’s goal is achieved or not, and the story's conflicts are brought to an end. The resolution ties up any loose ends, and leaves the audience with a sense of closure.
One of the key elements of the resolution is the moment of catharsis or emotional release, which is the point at which the audience experiences a sense of relief or release from the tension and conflict that has been building throughout the story. This can take many forms, depending on the story and the genre.
For example, in a mystery story, the resolution may involve the detective solving the crime and bringing the perpetrator to justice, which provides a sense of closure for the audience. In a romance story, the resolution may involve the main characters finally confessing their love for each other and getting together, which provides a sense of emotional release for the audience. In a tragedy, the resolution may involve the death of the main character, which provides a sense of emotional release for the audience as they understand the tragic events which led to it.

Lack of Resolution

When a work of literature lacks resolution, it can have a significant impact on how the reader interprets and understands the story. Without a clear resolution, the reader may be left feeling confused or uncertain about the meaning of the story or the fate of the characters. This can be intentional on the part of the author, as it allows the reader to interpret the story in their own way and come to their own conclusions.
In some cases, the lack of resolution may be used to create a sense of ambiguity or open-endedness in the story. This can be used to convey themes such as the uncertainty of life, the complexity of human emotions, or the idea that there are no easy answers to the problems of the world. It can also be used to create a sense of unease, or to leave the reader with a feeling of unresolved tension.
For example, in Samuel Beckett's play "Waiting for Godot" the two main characters waiting for someone named Godot but he never shows up, and the play ends with them still waiting. The lack of resolution in this play has been interpreted as a commentary on the human condition, the futility of waiting for something that may never come, and the endless cycle of repetition in life.
In other cases, the lack of resolution can be seen as a weakness in the story. It can create a sense of frustration in the reader, who may feel that the story is incomplete or unsatisfying. This can be especially true in genre fiction, where the reader may expect a clear resolution to the conflicts and tensions that have been building throughout the story.
In any case, the lack of resolution can greatly influence the reader's interpretation of a work of literature. It can make them question the story, the characters, and the themes, and it can lead to different interpretations and understandings of the story.

Conclusion

Plot structure and development is important in literature, as significant events, suspense, and resolution all contribute to the narrative. Significant events can be used to create suspense and anticipation, and the arrangement of these events can create a sense of progression and build-up. Conflict is created by the introduction of unseen forces, and resolution is the part of the plot that comes after the climax, in which the conflicts and tensions of the story are resolved. The lack of resolution can also be used to create a sense of ambiguity or open-endedness in the story, or it can be seen as a weakness in the story.
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