Writing to a positive resolution
“Listen, Paula. I am going to tell you a story, so that when you wake up you will not feel so lost.”
Thus begins Isabel Allende’s heartrending story of the death of her daughter, Paula, who suffered a seizure and fell into an irreversible coma when she was 26 years old.
Hoping that someday her daughter will be able to read her words, Allende began writing as Paula lay in a Madrid hospital. The author deftly weaves the story of her family history, her upbringing, and the history of her country, Chile, with the story of her daughter’s illness. Though Paula: A Memoir is a tragic story of the loss of her child, Allende turns it into a beautiful tribute full of lyrical, mystical, and sometimes humorous writing. Though we suffer with her over her child’s fate, and feel her pain, she eventually leads us to a place of transcendence.
Instead of ending her book with an artificial, tacked-on “happy ending” or a moralistic treatise on “what she learned” from her journey, Allende begins long before the end of the book to show us her turns.
All along, we see the author’s incredibly feisty and determined spirit: when she helps political refugees survive Chile’s military coup, when she’s in a lifeless marriage and follows her heart by taking a passionate lover, and in the tales she tells and the books she writes.
Towards the end of her memoir, after we’ve experienced so much of her grief, she begins to show us the things that are blossoming and pulling her forward. Some of these things, including her new love and husband Willie, and the success of her books, have actually occurred a bit earlier in the timeline of her life—well before Paula’s collapse—but by building to these positives in the last part of the book, she deliberately leads us step-by-step into a celebration of life.
After reading and examining Allende’s memoir, I realized that my own memoir’s positive resolution happened too late in the book—now it almost feels like an afterthought. Part of my revision process has been to start writing to my positive resolution from the beginning of my book.
Take a look again at Allende’s first line above in Paula. When she finished her memoir, she obviously knew her daughter had died, but she was already preparing us for a kind of redemption in her very first line. We know Paula doesn’t wake up, but maybe Allende is referring to another kind of awakening.
Writing to a positive resolution isn’t just for memoirs. If your story ends on a positive note or a happy ending, how do you do it? Where do you begin your ending? Could you possibly start your ending with your very first sentence?