“The word ‘denouement’ is a borrowed word that came to the English language via the French word denoue. Its literal Latin meaning is to ‘untie the knot’. This is why we now use it as a literary term to refer to the conclusion of a novel.”
This post is from an article by Isabella May in the Jericho Writers blog. She is the author of The Cocktail Bar and The Chocolate Box. She lives in Andalusia, Spain, although she grew up in Somerset on Glastonbury’s ley lines (she loves to feature her quirky English hometown in her rom-coms.) After a degree in Modern Languages and European Studies at UWE, Bristol, she worked in children’s publishing selling foreign rights for novelty, board, pop-up and non-fiction books all over the world.
“The denouement of a story (whether it’s a book, play or movie) is a literary device that involves the tying up of all the loose ends, the ironing out of the plot, and the final resolution that should leave your audience feeling satisfied. As writers, the narrative of our work should have a story arc and take readers through the five stages of development; exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement. Denouement occurs at the very end and it needs to help readers understand the bigger picture and how all of the subplots and events have led to its creation. This is true for all genres and forms of storytelling.
“Simply put, stories demand conflict. Conflict, in turn, leads to a climax which then demands denouement in the final scene to give the audience a sense of closure. You can’t get to the exciting point then leave readers guessing! It is also the part where we discover the moral of a story, or we learn the lesson. Human beings love to see good beat evil. This is why denouement is particularly important when it comes to children’s books (where everyone ‘lived happily ever after’). Of course, this doesn’t mean every single novel has to have a fully-formed denouement in its final pages. If the book is part of a series, the final chapter may wrap up the book’s side storyline, but there may be a cliffhanger for the bigger story thread in order to entice readers to the next book. Although some standalone books break the writing rules and shun denouement completely.
“William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet highlights the importance and impact of employing denouement as a technique for closure. Instead of offering a happy ending, the double suicide of the main characters means this particular denouement teachers the audience a lesson – that it was their death, not their love, that healed the family feud. William Shakespeare was a master of denouement, ensuring that every last scene in his plays culminated in a dramatic (and conclusive) finale!
“The popular Netflix series (and book adaptation) could not have left us with a greater celebration of accomplishment on behalf of its genius chess-playing protagonist. Beth’s life challenges up until the point of denouement have been enormous. But despite everything her life has thrown at her, she overcomes every one of her hurdles to finally defeat her greatest chess rival, bringing her story to a highly satisfying conclusion.
“Here are five basic rules to follow:
- Denouement should tie up every single loose end in such a way that a quick tug won’t make everything unravel again! Readers should not be left with a single niggle.
- Denouement should allow key characters the chance to reflect realistically on their story, whilst taking into account whether their reactions feel warranted.
- Denouement should be plausible and believable (even if you write fantasy, the book should be wrapped up in a way that makes sense).
- Denouement should complete the aforementioned story arc and work in harmony with the previous components of it: exposition, rising action, climax, and falling action.
- Denouement should link effortlessly with the main themes of your novel.
“The denouement of a story is at the author’s discretion, but it is definitely the point at which the bad guys should be revealed (and hopefully brought to justice), the hero rewarded, secrets unearthed, and loose ends tied up. Writers take readers on a journey of escapism, so that journey needs to have a satisfyingly plausible ending. It may be tempting to cut corners when you’re on the verge of typing THE END, but it’s vital to be just as diligent with your denouement as you are with your opening chapter. Because your final words, and that final scene, will stay with your readers forever.”