What is a Denouement?

Q: I keep hearing this term “denouement” pop up in some of the writing materials I’ve been reading. What exactly is a denouement? –Anonymous

Denouement is a hard word to pronounce (and a harder word to spell for some of us, especially me—it’s one of my Achilles’ heels for some reason). But the role of the denouement in literature is not hard to comprehend and, once you understand it’s definition, you’ll be to spot it quite easily in most novels.

The denouement is the final outcome of the story, generally occurring after the climax of the plot. Often it’s where all the secrets (if there are any) are revealed and loose ends are tied up. For example, the denouement of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet comes just after the Romeo and Juliet take their own lives. When the families find their dead bodies, Escalus explains that their deaths are a result of the family feud, leaving members of both sides to feel guilty. That is the denouement.

As a writer, it’s important to keep this in mind when crafting your own story. While you want to give away bits of information about your plot (and subplots) throughout, you want to save the juiciest revelations for the end, rewarding readers for staying the course. That’s the ultimate goal of any good denouement.

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5 thoughts on “What is a Denouement?

  1. JanelleFila

    At my MFA program, students were always throwing around big words that I didn’t quite understand (my bachelor’s degree is in Finance). My favorite was juxtaposition…which I’m still not sure I quite know the point of that word, other than to make the person look and feel smart 🙂

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