LIN ANDERSON: THE STRUCTURE OF STORY PART III


Today, I'm excited to re-introduce Lin Anderson for Part 3 of her 3-part series on The Structure of Story. Lin has a lot of writing experience, having published eight novels, which feature forensic expert Dr Rhona MacLeod. Her books have been translated into several langauages and are in development for TV. Her short stories have appeared in a number of collections, most recently Dead Close was chosen for the Best of British Crime 2011. Also a screenwriter, her film River Child won a BAFTA and the Celtic Film Festival best fiction award. Lin's website is: http://www.lin-anderson.com/ 

In this essay, Lin talks about the importance of the ending and how it relates to all that has come before it. To illustrate her thoughts, Lin has included one of her short stories, One Good Turn.

Part 3: The Resolution

Before you write your resolution I'd like you to consider one thing. What image/thought/emotion do you want your reader to have in their heads when they reach the last word, because that's what will stay with them. That finale image or impression should in some way reflect the beginning. A resolution does not necessarily mean that everything is resolved. What you thought your protagonist wanted may not be what they really needed by the resolution. The tone of your story will help dictate the ending. In true noir, a story ends as desperately as it began. A comedy crime begins and ends on humour. A dramatic piece has a resolution usually based on a form of justice, or morality. The best ending is one your reader didn't expect but when faced with it, realises it's the right one. The sting in the tail.
A short story conceals many stories beneath. We drop into a life, stay a short while and re-emerge, while your character's lives continue. We will always wonder at what might happen next.
To illustrate some of the points raised I'd like you to consider a short story which was commissioned by Victim Support Scotland for a book called Shattered.

One Good Turn

The night bus emerged from Princes Street and turned into Lothian Road. Ben watched it pull up at the previous stop and wished once again he’d walked in that direction. At this time of night the buses filled up quickly. He was first in the queue but that might not be enough.
He stole a glance at the people behind him in the bus shelter. A girl then two guys. The girl looked frozen, her outfit more suited to a dance club than a February night in Edinburgh. Pretty in a cold, pinched sort of way, she was huddled against the glass as far from the two men as possible, as though she didn’t want them to notice her. Difficult in an outfit and heels like that. Ben had already heard their not so discreet comments.
The bus was lumbering up the hill giving Ben the sinking feeling that it was bursting at the seams. He checked his pocket for change, wishing he’d kept enough cash for a taxi. If he had he would be home by now, curled up in his warm bed, with the promise of a long lie tomorrow.
The bus slowed as it approached the stop and Ben allowed his hopes to rise. It wouldn’t stop if it was full. He stepped out of the shelter and stuck out his hand. Already the others were shuffling forward, eager like him to get on board. The bus ground to a halt and the door folded open, blasting them with welcome heat.
‘Sorry, one only.’
A chorus of anger erupted behind Ben as the message sank in.
‘Fuck you,’ the taller of the two guys shouted.
As Ben made to get on, he caught a glimpse of the lassie’s frozen face. He thought of his wee sister Catriona wearing shoes she couldn’t walk in, ignoring his mum’s advice about putting on a coat. He might be frozen but at least he could walk.
‘You go.’ He stood back to let the girl past.      
She hesitated, uncertain how to react. ‘Are you sure?’
‘I’ll get the next one.’
The door closed behind her taking the heat with it. Ben saw the girl grip the pole, stumbling as the bus pulled sharply away.
‘Fucking good Samaritan,’ he cursed himself as he watched the tail end of the bus creep up Lothian Road.
The other two guys had given up and started walking. Ben decided to do the same. God knows when the next bus would arrive, and it too would likely be full. He stuck his hands in his pockets and dipped his head into the biting wind.

Stephanie was so intent on finding something to hold onto that she failed to smile her thanks as the bus pulled away. She felt sorry for the nice guy who’d given her his place, but was grateful for it.
As the bus accelerated she widened her stance in an effort to balance on the ridiculous heels, inwardly cursing herself for wearing the silly shoes. The shoes had been a mistake, the outfit had been a mistake, the entire night had been a mistake. Dark despair swept over her. Now that she didn’t have to concentrate on the cold, the horror that had been her evening came crashing back. She should have listened to her friends. She shouldn’t have gone with Gary. Stephanie clutched the pole tighter, her knuckles white.
The bus had pulled up at the traffic lights on the corner of Bread Street. From the right hand window she spotted her good Samaritan following them, walking with long swift strides. The sight made her feel a little better. He glanced in, catching her eye and smiling. The bus took off again, moving towards the right hand lane, heading for Bruntsfield. The guy, already across Bread Street suddenly broke into a run. Stephanie wanted to cheer him on as he chased the bus to the next traffic light. If it was red, he would catch them up.
Stephanie manoeuvred herself into a position where she could watch his progress from the back window.

The bus wasn’t that far ahead. If it met another red at Melville Drive he would catch up easily. The run had warmed him. He was out of breath but not by much and this was much better than standing at the bus stop. As if in answer to his prayer the bus slowed. The light was changing. Ben put on an extra spurt.
The two guys appeared from nowhere slamming hard into him. Ben staggered, his interrupted momentum resounding through his chest.
‘Bastard!’
Ben registered the shout and the fact that the two men from the bus stop were circling him, but he had no idea why. He drew himself up, gasping for breath.
‘Sorry,’ he said, not sure why he should apologise.
‘Aye, you fucking will be!’
Ben felt the sharp point of an elbow bury itself in his ribs. The little air that was left in his lungs escaped with a hiss. A sudden and acute sense of danger told him to get the hell out of there. Never argue. Always run. Before he could obey his own instructions the two guys were away, whooping and hollering, darting across the road, heading down the lane towards Fountainbridge.
Ben attempted to straighten up. The bus was still at the lights. If he could get his breath back he could catch it. Somehow that seemed even more important now than before. He drew air painfully into his lungs and set off again. Shit!  The bus was beginning to move off. He spotted the girl watching him from the rear window and upped his effort.
He was only yards from the bus when his legs suddenly gave way beneath him. He staggered, reaching out to break his fall as the pavement rose abruptly to meet him.

Stephanie tried to peer out of the steamed up windows. Something had happened. He was on his own then there were three of them. Had he caught up with the other two guys from the bus stop?
Now he was on his own again, only yards behind the bus, but something was wrong.
‘Stop!’ she screamed and held her finger on the bell.

Ben wondered where he was and why he was lying down. Then he remembered – he always felt like this after donating blood. Calm and contented, as though seven pints were all he really needed to survive.
He licked his lips, tasting metal. Salty liquid bubbled up his throat and into his mouth to dribble down his chin. He felt no pain just a strange burning sensation in his side where the guy had elbowed him. He knew he should get up but had no idea where he would find the strength. He heard the rapid click of heels on the pavement and watched as the shoes ran towards him. Ben found himself wondering again how she could walk on those heels, let alone run.
She dropped onto bare knees beside him.
‘Are you alright?’ The face that stared down was frightened and Ben felt the need to reassure her, but couldn’t find his voice. Now she was speaking rapidly into her mobile saying something about a stabbing and an ambulance.
Confusion and fear began to devour Ben’s sense of calm.
‘It’s okay.’ She reached for his hand and took it in her own. Ben was surprised how warm her hand felt against his cold one. He looked up at her. Her eyes were a midnight blue. He thought she looked great in spite of the layers of makeup and the daft shoes and wanted to tell her so.
‘You’re going to be alright,’ she said, her voice soft and trembling.
It was good to hear her say it, even though Ben knew in that moment it wasn’t true.

She moved his head onto her knee. Somewhere in the distance Stephanie heard the searing sound of a siren. He was staring at her, his lips moving, but no sound came out. She gently wiped away the red bubble that had formed at the corner of his mouth.
‘It’s okay, they’re coming. Can you hear them?’
Her knees felt warm and she realised it was because she was kneeling in his blood.
She wanted to scream. She wanted to cry. She wanted to turn the clock back. She wanted to be standing in the freezing wind watching the bus pull away with him inside.

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