Tension, Resolution, And How To Have A Complete Thought

A story is only as good as how it ends. That’s not to say every thought you complete has to be a blockbuster. But it is a reminder – if you want to make a strong point, you need a strong ending. For that, we can use the concepts of tension and resolution.

Take a string. Pull it taut. Let it go. 

Or, more philosophically, 

Take an idea, consider what makes it tense, and then figure out whatever resolves its tension.  

Let’s break down the pieces, step by step. 

Pick an idea, define its poles:

The idea of tension, resolution, and having a complete thought is important to me, so let’s make a complete thought about it. This is my string. To make it taut, I need to pull on each end. 

Think of finding the ends of the string as defining its two poles. On one end I have a complete thought, and on the other, I have an incomplete thought. You can always find a pole by inverting the original idea, or trying to place it on a continuum, and determining what’s in opposition to it. That doesn’t have to mean a perfect opposite either! We’re looking for the natural tension, like this-

Reflect on the inherent tension as you move away from one pole and toward the other:

If you want to have a complete thought with a strong ending, you have to move away from an incomplete thought until you land on a complete thought.  That’s the action. The transformation of incomplete to complete. 

If, for example, you have a singular quote copied into a note, all you’ve captured is something semi-interesting to share. It’s like a picture with no frame, or an out-of-context quote on social media, or rambled musings in a passing conversation. It’s fine, but it’s nothing. There’s no there there. It’s pulp.  

But, with some form of reflection (either your own, OR an invitation for someone else to reflect), you’re sussing out the tension until it starts begging for action. 

The more we wonder if the string is going to metaphorically break or slacken, the more we feel the tension. The longer the string, or the further we move (or start!) away from our endpoint, the more room for tension, transformation, and feelings of longing for completeness we can create.  

“Are you just gonna leave me hanging?!” Yes. For a moment at least, because it’s what makes things interesting. We need a “from” and a “to” on our string or else we might as well be a Walmart wall-art aphorism. Incomplete thoughts are easy to come by, cheap, and definitionally pointless. So-

Pick a resolution point to finish on, or more simply – “end on an end”:

Strong endings land at one pole. If you want to have a complete thought, you panic over leaving it weakly incomplete. You leave the reader hanging, on self-doubts and the hollow open-loopedness of not knowing where any of this lands. 

And then,

As the thought-completer, we already know we’re landing on the complete thought pole. We moved over to incomplete, made a wall-art joke to mock shallow incompleteness posing as thoughtfulness, and now it’s time to stick the landing. We need the promised process of this post now. 

A keystone of making a Personal Archive is figuring out how to complete thoughts from your notes. Curious people run into interesting stuff all day every day. Curious people become interesting people when they can take something they saw, and make a conversation-worthy story out of it. 

By taking an idea, reflecting on its essence, finding it’s poles, considering how we move from and to each extreme, and firmly landing/resolving the tension on one end – we’ve completed a thought. 

We put our completed thoughts into our Personal Archives. We share these thoughts in conversations, in stories, in written form, or however we like. We can choose to publish them formally, or hold them exclusively for our own reference. The point is, we saw something we were curious about, captured it, and took the time to reflect. Now, in completed form, we always have something to invite others to be curious about and reflect on. 

If fostering the cycle of human curiosity isn’t the most important thing in life, I don’t know what is. 

More posts forthcoming about various ways to find the poles and explore tension/resolution. If you have questions or comments on this, please – send them in.

Further reading: here’s the running list of Personal Archive posts, and because it’s related, an older post on the peak-end rule and using it in short vs. long pieces (with musical and medical references).