Make final words of your story count
After the story’s falling action comes another brief section that wraps up the story. This conclusion is known as the denouement (pronounced day-noo-mon).
During the denouement – which usually is only a few paragraphs and sometimes as short as a single sentence long – the loose ends of the story are tied up. Usually there are minor questions, often not directly involving the main character, that need to be solved. In addition, this part of the story can serve as a catharsis for readers, relieving tension created in the story by offering humor or revealing the story’s theme.
A good example of a denouement is the final scene of the “Star Trek: The Original Series” episode “The Trouble with Tribbles”. The episode involved Captain Kirk and crew using tribbles to uncover a Klingon plot to prevent the Federation from colonizing Sherman’s Planet. During the episode, the number of tribbles (which are born pregnant) threaten to overrun Kirk’s ship and the space station containing the wheat the Federation needs to develop the planet. In a humorous concluding scene, two small yet nagging questions are answered: Will the Federation be able to colonize the planet and what happened to all of the tribbles aboard the Enterprise? A dispatch from Starfleet quickly answers the first question and then Scotty reluctantly reveals he beamed the tribbles aboard the Klingon ship just before it warped out of orbit.
Sometimes the denouement is known as the “resolution”. It also is casually referred to as the “conclusion” or the “ending”.
Genre stories often have expected endings, called “ritual endings”. Mysteries, for example, include the main character reciting how he made the connections that that led him to solve the crime. “Star Trek” episodes typically end with the exchange of a joke that relates to the story’s theme. Part of the fun of such stories is seeing how the characters reach this ritual ending.
When writing the conclusion of your story, be sure to follow a few simple guidelines:
• The conclusion must complete the action of the story - At this point in the story, the main character clearly has either overcome the central problem or has so failed that there is no hope of him ever overcoming it. If the conclusion isn’t connected to the story’s action, it will appear tacked on.
• Reaching the ritual ending must always be in doubt - If you do use a ritual ending, generate enough dramatic tension that the reader remains uncertain if the crime will be solved or that order will be restored so that a humorous ending is possible. Simply following a plot structure without dramatic tension is akin to creating a “cookie-cutter” story. The story would be the same as any other and lack an unique shape.
• Your ending must surprise and delight - Often what is most memorable about a story is its conclusion. The conclusion does mark the last words that are read, after all. Make them count.
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