Saturday, June 26, 2010

CLIMAX AND DENOUEMENT: One Crazy Summer (Post #6 of 6)

Dear Allyson and Heather,

     I’ve been thinking about your post, Heather, and about how Williams-Garcia created an antagonist who AVOIDS taking action. Her decision to pit Delphine against such a resistant mother created a challenge with respect to the ending. How could the story come to a climax in which there would be some resolution of the tension between Delphine and Cecile, while still remaining true to the characters? A sugary sweet ending wouldn’t fit, but to have no mutual understanding wouldn’t satisfy readers either.
     In Beginnings,, Middles & Ends, Nancy Kress says, 

…the climactic scene must grow naturally out of the actions that preceded it, which in turn must have grown naturally out of the personalities of the characters.” (p. 108)

     In the penultimate chapter of One Crazy Summer, “Be Eleven,” the protagonist and the antagonist confront one another. It’s a confrontation we’ve been prepared for, and expecting, and waiting for, since the first chapter, when Delphine and her sisters set off on the quest to visit the mother who had left them behind six years earlier, leaving Delphine with only a “flash of memory” that told her “Cecile wasn’t one for kissing and hugging” (p. 7). With Delphine, we wonder, “Why? 
     And finally, in “Be Eleven,” Cecile explains. Cecile initiates the scene with a tirade directed at Delphine, blaming Delphine for not calling her father when Cecile was in jail, Delphine responds: 

I’m only eleven years old. And I do everything. I have to, because you’re not there to do it. I’m only eleven years old, but I do the best I can. I don’t just up and leave. (p. 206) 

      In response, Cecile opens up, sharing her own life story with Delphine. Delphine reflects: 

Here was my mother telling me her life. Who she was. How she came to be Cecile. Answering questions I’d stored in my head from the time I realized she would not come back. (p. 209) 

     Delphine’s self-awareness grows out of these revelations: “….for what seemed like the first time ever, all I could think about was my own self. What I lost. What I missed" (p. 209). The information doesn’t change Delphine’s feelings—“I was still mad”—but it does give her information that she planned to take out “one piece at a time and look at” (p. 210), and it gives her Cecile’s understanding: “Be eleven, Delphine. Be eleven while you can” (p. 210)

     About the dénouement, whose function is to “wrap up the story” after the climax, Kress says, 

it may consist of a sentence, a paragraph, or a brief scene clarifying what happens to the character after she changes. (p. 112) 

Williams-Garcia has created the perfect dénouement. After they’ve said their goodbyes at the airport, Delphine expects Cecile to walk away. But in line for boarding, Delphine reports: 

When I turned to see if she had gone, she was standing only a few feet away. Looking straight at me. It was a strange, wonderful feeling. To discover eyes upon you when you expected no one to notice you at all. (p. 214) 

And finally, there’s the moment we’ve been prepared for, and waiting for, from the first chapter: 

We broke off from the line and ran over to hug our mother and let her hug us…..We weren’t about to leave Oakland without getting what we’d come for. (p. 215)

     It’s a perfect ending—one that follows from all of the actions that preceded it and grows naturally out of the personalities of the characters.

StorySleuths Tip #81: Create a climax and dénouement that meet the standards of Nancy Kress--that logically follow the actions preceding it while growing naturally out of the personalities of the characters.