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What is Denouement in a Story?

writing-5What is denouement? We get this word from the French language. The word denoue literally means to “untie.”

It is the final part of a story, whether it is a book, movie, or play, in which all of the plots are gathered together for one final, climatic outcome. It is the place where the final components are fully explained to the reader and the plot strands resolved so that there are no additional questions about the outcome that has occurred.

In most books, the denouement will be in the final chapter. Books that have included an epilogue will typically have the denouement there as well.

Why Is Denouement Important to a Story?

Because the goal of denouement is to provide clarity to a reader, a poorly written conclusion has the potential of destroying the entire story. It makes the reader feel like they wasted their time if they are not provided with a clear and logical outcome.

Think of it in this way. The goal of your story from the very beginning is to gradually lead the reader toward a climax that causes excitement, anxiety, and maybe even an adrenaline rush. Once you reach the climax, you need to give the reader a place where they can release the energy that has been created by the buildup. This is what the denouement is able to do.

It’s a place where the reader is able to breathe a sigh of relief, so to speak. They get to experience a future path for the characters to whom they have bonded so that the experience of reading (or watching) feels like a meaningful investment of time.

How to Write a Good Denouement

In order for a denouement to have a maximum level of effectiveness, it must be able to accomplish three specific goals.

  • It must be able to restate the primary idea of the narrative so that the point of the climax is reinforced to the reader.
  • It must be able to fully summarize all of the outstanding questions that may be lingering in the mind of the reader in a manner that is logical and complete.
  • It must be able to leave the reader with a final impression of the story that is both interesting and satisfying.

Does this sound a lot like the advice given to writers who want to create a good conclusion? A denouement is very similar to a formal conclusion, but with one key difference. A conclusion is intended to wrap things up without providing the reader with new information. Conclusions are intended to give a reader one final thought about the story to think about.

A denouement is not limited to such a structure. If new information needs to be given to the reader, then it should be given. It should support the key plot points that have been offered to the reader and resolve them in a way that is realistic.

Common Traps to Avoid When Creating a Denouement

By the time you’re ready to wrap things up, there’s a good chance you’ve written 80,000-120,000 words if we’re talking about a novel. That’s a lot of writing. When a reader comes to the end of a novel of this length, they’ve already mentally prepared themselves for the ending to come. You’ve made your primary points.

This means the denouement doesn’t need to be an extended addition to the story. The best tend to be short and come directly to the points that need to be made.

Since the denouement comes after the climax, it can also be tempting as a writer to keep the pace of the story going at the same level as it was at the conclusion of the main narrative. When a reader is prepared for an ending, they’re looking for a place where they can slow down, begin to breathe, and finally come to a complete stop.

Yet a good denouement also understands that once a reader has come to a complete stop, there is a future world that is waiting for the characters. You’re not pulling into a driveway at the end of the day. You’re at a stop sign that offers you the chance to let the readers turn left, turn right, or go straight ahead. It’s up to you in this conclusion to point them in the right direction.

What is a Denouement?

It’s the most effective and straight-forward way to make sure your reader understands the points you were attempting to make. Wrap things up for every plot and subplot in your story in a logical and effective way and your denouement will leave readers feeling satisfied.

Melissa G Wilson

Melissa has been a leader in the book writing, publishing and marketing arena for the past two decades. To date, she has helped more than 100 thought leaders write, publish and market their books. Her clients include executives such as Dan Weinfurter a seven-time Inc 500 winner and Orlando Ashford, President of Holland Cruise Lines.

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