Tuesday Terminology: Denouement

I think there’s a rule that using French words when describing literary terms makes you sound about 10 IQ points smarter. Take the term denouement (dā-nü-mäⁿ, dā-nü-). Sounds smart with the implied, often unspoken n at the end, right? But the better part is how it works for your writing.

Literally, the term means “untying,” and that’s a better way to remember it. After the climax of a story, novel, or play, you usually include an explanation of how all the “knots” of conflict have been resolved: how your hero deals with the aftermath of the battle, how the town recovers, what’s left when the smoke clears.

Here are some guidelines to consider about the denouement:

  • You don’t have to make everything tidy or answer every question, but there’s nothing wrong with doing so for many genres. I like keeping my stories open so that the reader “chews” on the implications after reading, but that’s a personal choice.
  • Keep this section short. The conflict is over by this point, and if it’s too long, the reader will lose interest. You may want to stick with a short epilogue, for example.
  • Make the reader “miss” the characters. This is your chance to add in some character nostalgia and leave your audience wanting more. Your goal is for readers who don’t want the story to end—even after the climax and resolution.

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