Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What's a Denouement?

Denouement is a fancy word for what happens after your story's climax. It's the resolution scene after the action where everything falls into place and makes sense. It happens after the villain has been caught and everything has been explained. If you're writing a romance it's the "and they lived happily ever after" moment or it's the moment when your characters are looking forward to a new life.

The denouement should be short, a natural part of your story, and it should tie everything together.

No one likes a long denouement. Too long and the reader begins to feel as if a guest came to visit, but stayed two weeks longer then they said they would. Remember the rule for company--after three days they begin to smell like dead fish? Well, apply that to your denouement. Once the villain has been caught, and you've explained everything, leave. 

A natural part of the story...
If Jack and Jill have fallen in love, leave the reader with a scene that shows how they will live "happily ever after." If the climax was full of action, show your characters moving on with their lives having learned and grown through their experiences. 

Tie everything together...
This is very important. If you've written a mystery make sure all those red-herrings you planted have been resolved with believable explanations. If Bill turns out to be the fellow your heroine left for her hero, make sure the reader knows Bill has a future. If you left the reader thinking John was the villain and he wasn't, give a brief explanation why he acted threatening.

Denouements can be written as epilogues. I enjoy a good wrap up that leaves me feeling as though the characters I've read about are going to move on and have a future. 

Do you like happily-ever-after denouements? Or do you like short, get-on-with-their-lives denouements? Tell me what's your favorite ending.  


  1. Hi Kathi,
    I'm a happily every after sort of person. If the denouement (first time I've ever used that word!) is too short, I feel a little shocked, wishing for more.

  2. Michelle,
    I understand the danger of writing a denouement that is too short. You want your readers satisfied. Just remember if it's too long you run the risk of them closing the book without reading to the end. Once the climax is over the tension that fueled the book is gone.

    But too short is not good either. A writer walks a thin line between.

  3. Would another word for it be "aftermath?"

  4. I like endings that fit the story. Not long ago I read one that went on and on. And on. And on. And still more before it finished. Don't do that.

  5. Aubrie,
    Aftermath sounds like the same thing as a denouement. It's the wrap up where all the questions that arose during the story are answered. Yes, aftermath should work. :)

  6. Carol,
    Great point! Whatever you do, don't belabor the denouement. Make it short and hopeful with a brighter future that awaits the main characters. Anyway, those are the kind of endings I like. :)



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