What is a Denouement? Definition and Examples in Literature

Denouements are a crucial aspect in any story. This term refers to the closing moments in a narrative, after the climax, but it’s more than simply the “end”.

Definition of denouement

Denouement is a literary term for the concluding section of a narrative. It encapsulates the resolution for major themes, character arcs, and plot lines.

The denoument follows the climax of a story and finishes at the actual ending. It can be in the form of an epilogue, although not always. While epilogues are optional, a denouement generally isn’t.

Where are denouements used?

A denouement can be found in any form of storytelling, including but not limited to:

  • Novels
  • Short stories
  • Films
  • Plays
  • Videogames
  • Narrative podcasts
Gold and pink fireworks against a deep blue night sky.

How to pronounce denouement

As denouement is a French word, it doesn’t follow the same phonetic pronunciation as Anglophone words so it may not sound how it first looks.

How to pronounce denouement: day-new-mah

Origin of denouement

Denouement originated in the French language in the 18th century and was a term used to mean “unknotting” or “untying”.

While this seems at odds with an equivalent English meaning – “tying up loose ends” – the original “untying” refers more to the loosening of tensions during the resolution.

Where does a denouement fit into a dramatic structure?

There are different narrative structures, such as the three-act or five-act structure, but almost all will place the denoument at the end. In general, most dramatic structures will roughly follow this order:

The denouement provides the closure for all the events that happened in the preceding sections, providing the reader with a satisfying ending and a lasting impact.

Examples of denouement

Denouements can take on many different forms and purposes depending on the type of story, genre, and medium. Likewise, they can vary significantly in length, from a single scene to multiple chapters.

The Lord of the Rings

In JRR Tolkien’s epic fantasy trilogy, the denouement is an extended series of chapters that are necessary to tie together all the outstanding plotlines. Peter Jackson’s film adaptations show this well (especially as they exclude the Scouring of the Shire that disrupts the denouement).

Once the climactic battles have finished and the ring has been destroyed, there are multiple arcs to conclude: Aragorn becomes King, Sam gets married, and Frodo travels to the Undying Lands.

Romeo and Juliet

One of William Shakespeare’s most loved tragedies has the titular lovers both die at the climax of the story. A denouement follows, although it is only a single scene. It consists of monologues from Friar Laurence and the Prince and includes the reconciliation of the two feuding families. 

Harry Potter

The denouement in the Harry Potter series includes an epilogue, as the final chapter of the last book, The Deathly Hallows, is set nineteen years after the main events. Long after Voldemort has been defeated, the reader is given a glimpse of how the main characters’ lives have turned out.

We learn what jobs they now have, how their relationships have turned out, and we’re introduced to their children.

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How to write a denouement

If you’re writing a novel or other story from start to end, as opposed to a more scattershot approach, the denouement will be the last thing you write.

Because of this, you may wrap up the climax and think you’re done, but the denouement is just as important even if it’s not action-packed. Here are some tips on writing a denouement:

1.  Give your story room to breathe

The first rule with denouements is to actually include one. It can be tempting to bring your climactic chapter to a close, but readers expect more than an abrupt end.

Add another chapter at least to bring your story to close and it will feel much more complete.

2. Show the passing of time

Denouements don’t have to immediately follow the climax of a narrative. One common practice is to use a flash forward for the final scenes of a story. This allows you to clearly show the impact of what has happened throughout the story in order to highlight what has changed.

3. Wrap up any loose ends

Not every plotline or character arc needs to be concluded by the climax. The denouement is the perfect place to answer any unanswered questions and make sure that every plot point has been tied off.

4. Bring your themes to a close

Along with wrapping up any narrative loose ends, you should also consider the themes of your story. This may be something that comes out more obviously in a second or third redraft, but it should be another factor to work into the denouement.

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