The Power of the Denouement

I’ll be the first person to admit it.  In most pieces of writing, fiction and nonfiction, I tend to rush the ending.  I reach the climax, and I am ready to hit the road, on to new places.  That’s because what I’m writing is the ending, not a true denouement.

As defined by Writer’s Digest, the denouement is where loose ends are tied up and secrets are revealed.  That’s what I always think I am doing but still editors, critiquers and writing partners say the same thing – the ending is rushed.

Then I saw this post, Storyville: Why Denouement is Important to a Satisfying Story.  The denouement does more than tie things together.  Yes, this is where internal conflict and external conflict are joined. This is where you show that change happens.

But it is also where emotion comes out to play one last time.  A character who has chosen to save their people over love will feel that loss even as those around them celebrate.  A sleuth who finds out that the murderer is their mentor will be rocked to the core even as they are satisfied that it is over.  Emotions, both positive and negative, swirl throughout a strong ending.

This is also a time for revelations especially in post-apocalyptic stories.  The wall hasn’t been keeping monsters out, it has been keeping workers in.  Above ground is freedom but freedom comes with a price.

Even if a story is not apocalyptic, post or otherwise, there is truth in the denouement.  This is where the character realizes that she was driven not by justice but by revenge or that she has been manipulated by some larger power.

In my opinion, endings are especially hard to do well.  By tying up the action plot and the inner plot, bringing in emotion, and the sharp edge of truth, you’ll have a good start on getting it right.