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Exercise: Aftermath (Version 2)

These exercises were written by IWW members and administrators to provide structured practice opportunities for its members. You are welcome to use them for practice as well. Please mention that you found them at the Internet Writers Workshop (http://www.internetwritingwor kshop.org/).

Prepared by: Patricia L. Johnson
Posted on: March 16, 2003

The aftermath follows the resolution or high point of the story's central conflict. The aftermath may reflect back on the story. It gives a last impression of the book and solidifies the theme. It is sometimes referred to as the anticlimax. It is a wrap-up that provides closure. It is sometimes written as a eulogy.

One aspect of aftermath - which is outside the scope of this exercise - is that it is where loose ends and sub-plots are tied up and final explanations are given, as well as giving a sense of where the characters go on from there (the old "They lived happily ever after.")

After the crisis, the story's action declines. The story moves toward closure. This aftermath wraps up any loose ends of the story. It gives a sense of completion and closure. Story details are put in order; concerns are addressed. The aftermath winds the story down and finalizes it. It addresses what happens to main characters after the climax. It may hint at what characters may do next. It can use an image, a thought, or an action to end the story. An aftermath sometimes asks new questions.

In Charles Frazier's book, Cold Mountain, a Confederate soldier named Inman deserts the war after being wounded, and walks home through the Blue Ridge Mountains. The climax is Inman's death when he is almost home, in the arms of his lover, Ada. The aftermath, which Frazier wrote as an epilogue, shows Ada home safe on her farm, she is now a mother to his child who he will never know. In the aftermath scene, we see Ada with her family around a fire where the children are dancing. Ada is reading a book about Baucis and Philemon. Everyone is safe and well. Here is the last paragraph: "When Ada reached the story's conclusion, and the old lovers after long years together in peace and harmony had turned to oak and linden, it was full dark. The night was growing cool, and Ada put the book away. A crescent moon stood close upon Venus in the sky. The children were sleepy, and morning would dawn as early and demanding as always. Time to go inside and cover up the coals and pull in the latchstring."

We see that the family has gone on since Inman died, that their lives are demanding. There is also a sense of loss. Their lives would be fuller if Inman had lived. The aftermath gives a sense of how Inman's absence influences the main characters, especially Ada. They are safe on their farm, assured that tomorrow will bring more work. They have time to celebrate around a fire at the end of the day. The reader knows Ada has time to read and imagine in her life. We can imagine a safe future for Ada and her child by examining the keys presented in the aftermath.

Exercise: Summarize the climax of a story using about 150 words. Mention the characters and how the main story question is resolved. The story you use for the climax can be one you are working on now, or a new one you create for this exercise. Keep in mind that a good aftermath depends on a skillful climax, so use your imagination to develop interesting ideas. Then follow it with a well-crafted aftermath. Write the aftermath using 300 words. When you write a critique, mention how successful the aftermath was at reflecting back on the story. Did it pertain to the main story question mentioned in the climax? Did it address the characters? Did the aftermath provide closure? Did it ask new questions? Did it give a satisfying last impression of the story?

Have fun!

Patricia L. Johnson

Patricia L. Johnson's wrap-up
Posted on: March 25, 2003

Most of the aftermaths submitted succeeded in providing closure, asking new questions and providing a wrap-up for the climax. Many submissions wrote complete aftermaths that showed characters moving on with their lives.

Several members mentioned how difficult the exercise was. It was difficult to write an ending for a story that was not completely written. The aftermath exercise could use a new story idea or a completed story. One aftermath provided information for a sequel. There were no formal epilogues used as a form for aftermaths this time.

The more successful submissions gave closure, mentioned the characters and asked questions within the aftermath. The climaxes covered the main story resolution, and allowed the aftermath to wrap-up instead of review or summarize the action of the climax. The use of a period of elapsed time between the climax and the aftermath helped separate and define the aftermath. Some successful aftermaths gave a sense that activity occurred after the climax and before the events mentioned in the aftermath. Characters took new directions in successful aftermaths.

Some of the less successful submissions rewrote the climax as an aftermath. It was possible to have too much immediate action in an aftermath. Some aftermaths relived the action of the climax instead of introducing new questions and providing closure. Then a continuation of the story emerged rather than a wrap up. If the climax was too sketchy, it was difficult to determine if the aftermath was effective.

There were some helpful extra results of doing the aftermath exercise. The aftermath developed the ability to focus on a tight synopsis. Writing climax details in a word limit can be beneficial in developing good query letters. One member mentioned the aftermath exercise helped her to reexamine old stories she has written. Writing a new story idea in a fast climax summary opened up the muse for some.

Thanks to each of you for your submissions and critiques.

Patricia L. Johnson

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