Often as writers, we put a lot of our focus on the starting, climax, and middle of a story, and the denouement or falling action may be somewhat of an afterthought. If your experience was like mine, you were kind of taught that the denouement should just be a quick wrap-up that can end the story, and you weren’t given much direction on how to do that in a satisfying way. But when crafted well, the denouement can sometimes feel like the most powerful part of a story–not because it has heightened tension and conflict, like the rest of the novel probably has, but precisely because it’s the emotional release of all that.
Here are some things to keep in mind when working with denouements.
The Proper Length of a Denouement
Denouements are often short, and in fact, I’ve been in some creative writing classes where we were told that you can even cut them off completely, and while that might work for some rare stories, I argue that almost every story is better with a strong denouement than without. My advice? Don’t skimp on it. (Usually.)
Because some of us were taught that the purpose of the denouement is to get out of the story quickly, some of us actually make them too short. You might be able to get away with that, but you miss out on ending your story on a more powerful note.
So what length should they be? Well, long enough to cover the important parts but short enough to keep them interesting. So let’s talk about what they need.
A Denouement’s True Purpose: Validation
A powerful denouement doesn’t just “end the story.” It validates it. This means validating changes that happened during, or maybe rather, because of the story. Show evidence of what has been lost, defeated, gained, or won. So after a romance conflict, you may show the couple getting married. If someone died in the climax, you may show a funeral. If the protagonist completed a transformative character arc, we need to see him acting as a changed person. Was the antagonist defeated? Show that he, she, or it is now gone from the world.
Powerful validation, especially one after another, is what can often bring an audience to tears–it’s the release and outcome of all the previous hardship. It can also cement the theme into their hearts.
Validate what has changed, and sometimes, what hasn’t changed. A lot of powerful denouements do some of both, which is why you’ll notice they may be similar to the beginnings of the novels, yet different.
Tie Loose Ends (and Maybe Add New Ones)
This is usually what people think of when thinking of denouements, and when you validate changes, you are often tying up any loose ends in the process. Still, there may be some elements that need to be mentioned and addressed directly. If there was a side mystery, we may need to still get that resolved in the falling action. Any information that we are lacking, should probably be in the text. Smaller conflicts that weren’t handled in the climax, may be concluded here.
And in some stories, you may actually be adding loose ends in addition to tying off others. This is particularly true for a book in a series. Maybe what happened in the climax opened up more questions and potential conflicts. Some denouements close all the conflicts of the book, and then at the very end, add a few loose ends. Installments in a series may acknowledge any ongoing loose ends that haven’t yet been resolved.
Convey a New Normal
In the beginning of the novel, you probably conveyed a sense of normalcy to the audience–what was normal for this character, this setting, this society. Most satisfying denouements establish a sense of what the new normal may be. This can be big and obvious, like a couple getting married. Or it may be more subtle, like what a changed character is planning to do next in life. In some cases, you may be “hinting” at the future more than “establishing” it.
Sometimes, the “new normal” may actually be the old normal you opened up with, but in most stories, that would probably undermine all the changes that took place. Still, it can work for the right kind of story. But even if the new normal is almost the same as the old normal, typically it’s a good idea to at least give us a hint of how the protagonist changed or grew, internally.
Pick the Right Ending in Your Denouement
David Farland has talked about how satisfying endings will fit into one of these three options:
Happily Ever After – All of the “good guys” are happy and satisfied, and they successfully defeated the antagonist.
Sadder, but Wiser – The good guys may not have won the big external conflict, but they learned something profound and valuable from it, and will be better people because of it. Alternatively, maybe the characters didn’t get wiser, but the audience did.
Much was Won, but Much was Lost – Much of the antagonistic forces were defeated, but it was costly. Good guys may have had to sacrifice things they will never get back. But it was probably worth it.
Usually certain genres lean toward one type of ending. The tone and theme and plot of your story will also likely lean toward a specific one. Demonstrate your ending model in the denouement for a powerful impact.
About September C. Fawkes:
Sometimes September C. Fawkes scares people with her enthusiasm for writing and storytelling. She has worked in the fiction-writing industry for over ten years and has edited for both award-winning and best-selling authors, as well as beginning writers. She runs a writing tip blog at SeptemberCFawkes.com (subscribe to get a free copy of her booklet Core Principles of Crafting Protagonists). When not editing and instructing, she’s penning her own stories. Some may say she needs to get a social life. It’d be easier if her fictional one wasn’t so interesting.
📌 The Scoop about LAST week on Apex’s Strategy and Mastermind
The week of Feb 27, Apexers got to:
- Learn solid skills of how to gain and retain fans with a new look at marketing and how to be aligned in our authoring journey with Joe Solari – BUILDING THE BEST PUBLISHING BUSINESS: HELPING AUTHORS BUILD GREAT BUSINESSES
- Understand HOW TO SEDUCE READERS IN THE FIRST TEN PAGES with Michael Hauge; and
- Gain understanding why our emotional reality is the one we act on along with hands-on technique to further help us get out of our own way, allowing us to accelerate our authoring journey with our own Forrest Wolverton
Joe Solari wowed us during Strategy yesterday with how to grow our authoring business and how to gain and retain fans. This presentation mindset uses the old adage: Treat your readers like you want to be treated along with the how and whys it is effective and works with NOT against the marketing cycle, plus a lot more! Such as, the steps to align with ourselves, our brand and our goals which sets us up for the success we want. This presentation—part psychology, part science and part common sense and ingenuity makes this presentation a definite recommended replay!
In addition, Joe offered his free Author Marketing Assessment on the homepage of his website: https://joesolari.com/ which he shared and recommends. Along with letting us know he offers free 20 minute consultations. Based on his presentation, this is a resource available without the high-pressure sales. To schedule a time, go to the bottom of his home page and click “Schedule a Call.”
MASTERMIND (2/27/23)A question Michael asks periodically is would you want to hang out with your protagonist in real life. If the answer is no, then why are you expecting the reader to want to? Seducing your reader…aka get the hooked and turning pages…is based largely on the character. Why? Because we are looking for the experience and that translates into us becoming the character. We want to be someone relatable, likeable, cared about.
How do we do this? One way is creating empathy for the character: Show how the character is stuck, is in jeopardy, being in danger of losing something vital. Make them likeable: show how they are caring and good people. Yes, they’ll have flaws but show that later. Get us hooked first. Another way is to make them funny. You certainly don’t have to do all of these but you should have at least one from the list.
Biggest obstacles to getting the emotional response from the reader. Michael talked how to use conflict and vivid details of what’s happening in the scene.
Character arc. Michael asks what character change and courage does he/she have at the end that character didn’t have a the beginning. Because of a wound your character has suffered he or she has donned emotional armor and is now hiding behind the emotional “identity” of who they think they are; however, it’s the character’s “essence” —who they really are—that will let he/she win the day.
Seven kinds of openings.
- The Everyday Hero Intro: The story opens up with the protagonist living their everyday life.
- Hero Action Intro: The story opens up with a cop, a surgeon, or a spy, someone who has danger – life and death – in their everyday life and showing this aspect of their everyday dangerous life.
- Outside Action – Something happens outside the character living his or her everday life. Example the Da Vinci Code a killer murdering someone. This creates curiousity and anticipation.
- Two Heroes opening – If the heroes have not met yet, you want to introduce one and then introduce the other. Not introduce the second hero later in the story.
- Prologue – This opening starts with an event significantly prior to the story and gives information necessary to understand the story. Examples: Twister and the Mummy.
- Book-end – Start the opening at present day, go the past and then finish back at present day. This type of opening particularly helps periodic pieces to be more relatable.
- Crisis opening – You start at a big moment half way in the story when tension is high and then flashback to the past. This leaves the reader wanting to know what happened.
Michael also said that you can certainly play around with these openings. After answering some excellent questions he offered us a free gift, Key Questions for Storytellers.
To get yours, the link is storymastery.com/storyquestions.
MASTERMIND (3/4/23) Our very own Forrest Wolverton, NLP Master Coach, talked about emotional reality. This is the part of our ‘reality’ that we act on which makes it important to recognize our activated nervous responses so we can reinterpret them leading us become unstuck and better motivated. John gave us some resources to find where to find places to submit to and stressed the importance of creating some some of tracking document or spreadsheet so we know what’s been submitted, when, and payment. The presentation elicited some fantastic questions at the end!
Examples of emotional realities that we might give credence to include we’re not good enough or we don’t have time. Even if we have the experience and skills or if there are places in our schedule where we can write —we might not see it because it is our emotional reality that we act upon.
The discussion included what is felt when we get those rejection letters. Nick offered up John Olsen’s presentation from March 2022 which included the concept of Gaming Failure. Part of the discussion, initiated by a newer member, also included seeing feedback in a rejection as a gift.
Forrest gave us hands-on for recognizing when an activated nervous system and a limited belief are connected along with knowing how to disconnect the two. Emotional reality is where the work is and by addressing these give us the tools to get out of our own way. Crafting, editing, marketing…all of these are important in our authoring lives. To do all these more easily ‘and more joyfully starts with mindset.
📌 ON DECK for NEXT WEEK:
Monday’s (3/13/23 – 5:30 MT/7:30 pm ET) Strategy Meeting – Russell Nohelty – “Fund Your Book with Kickstarter”
Kickstarter is a platform on everyone’ slips these days after Brandon Sanderson used it to raise $41 million dollars. Authors like Will Wight and Sherilyn Kenyon have joined staples Dean Westly Smith, Michael Sullvan, and many others in expanded the platform to more authors, but how do you use it effectively? Join USA Today bestselling Author Russell Nohelty, who has raised over $325,000 for publishing projects on Kickstarter, as he goes through the ins and outs on how to crush it on Kickstarter.
BIO: Russell Nohelty is a USA Today bestselling author, publisher, and speaker. Russell is the author of dozens of novelsand graphic novelsincludingThe Godsverse Chronicles,The Obsidian Spindle Saga, and Ichabod Jones: Monster Hunter.He is also the co-host of the Kickstart Your Book Sales podcast, and cofounder of the Writer MBA training academy.To date, Russell Nohelty has raised over $400,000 on Kickstarter across over twenty-fiveprojects. He hasa very entertaining newsletter, which you can join at www.russellnohelty.com. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and dogs.Social Media Links:@russellnohelty on Twitter and Facebook
Monday’s Mastermind, (3/13/23 at 7 pm MT/ 9pm ET ) – Jody Milner – Imposter Syndrome & Mental Health for Authors
More info forthcoming
Saturday’s Mastermind (3/18/23 – 8 am MT / 10 am ET) – CJ Anaya – The Importance of Market Research
More info forthcoming.
📌 PLUS, we have a great line-up coming up:
- Lisa Cron, story analyst, speaker and author of WIRED FOR STORY and STORY GENIUS will be presenting “Hardwired for Story” on Monday, March 20.
- Donald Maass, literary agent and CEO of the Donald Maass Literary Agency and author of the BREAKOUT NOVEL and THE EMOTIONAL CRAFT IN FICTION will be presenting “The Emotional Craft in Fiction” on Monday, April 10.
WANT TO SEE WHO IS ON WHEN?? Check out the links below.
Strategy at a Glance
One last thing for this post: If there is a topic you would love to have a presenter on, let us know! Serving our community and offering quality information is a huge part of what we do here at Apex.
Apex’s SFF topic for the week is:
A Wizard’s Guide to TikTok with Samantha Edens
3/7/23 at 5:30 MT/ 7:30 ET
Don your adventure gear because Samantha Edens will be going over the basics of TikTok, how to feed the Algorithm dragon, and avoid being thrown in the shadowban dungeon….
Most of what she will be going over is relevant to other platforms like Instagram and Facebook too. So don’t be shy, check out A Wizard’s Guide to TikTok at 530 MTN
To learn more about SFF and/or how to join, contact Monica or Jan.
READING FOR WRITERS (an Apex affiliate group)
The next two meetings of Reading for Writers are:
March 16th–Octavia E. Butler: Dawn.
April 14th–Naomi Novik: A Deadly Education
Dawn is the first book in Octavia E. Butler’s Xenogenesis Series. This is a 1987 classic Science Fiction novel of note, and the Xenogenesis series is seminal. A powerful exploration of identity, humanity, and race, this is a book well worth reading.
From the back: “Lilith’s children will inherit the Earth and stars. But they will be more—and other—than human.”
A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik is subtitled as Lesson One of The Scholomance. Released in 2020, this is an example of contemporary, mostly well-received YA from a best-selling author. Universal studios have optioned the series. There has been some criticism of poor diversity representation, and that could be interesting to explore in our conversation. However, it is possible that offending material may have been already removed from our current editions. The fact that readers can express concern and text can be altered so quickly is another topic worthy of discussion.
From the website: “With flawless mastery, Naomi Novik creates a heroine for the ages—a character so sharply realized and so richly nuanced that she will live on in hearts and minds for generations to come.”
Another Search Tool to Make Things Easier
This is a handy tool – considering we are now on our fourth season of TEACHABLE zoom links!
****MORE HANDY LINKS!!****
The Course and Lecture Searchable
Searchable Index for Mastermind
*****INCLUDES NEW CALENDAR FEATURE AT PAGE BOTTOM*****
📌 Shout-out to some of our Apexers for this week!
- To Brenda Carre and Joshua Dyer! Their short stories will be coming out in the Inkd Publishing’s Noncorporeal. Stay tuned for the Kickstarter info. The anthology is slated to be out this summer!
- To Lazarus Chernik for sale and payment for his second short story sale!
- And Lou Schlesinger! He’s just learned one of his short stories in his collection has been accepted for publication in the 2023 Thomas Wolfe, the official journal of The Thomas Wolfe Society
📌 If you have success news you’d like to share about yourself or another Apexer, please email Tammy and have Apexer Good News in the subject line. We’d love to do a shout-out!!
Every week Apex members have informative meetings with two Mastermind interviews/presentations with industry experts, Strategy meeting to give the tips and tools to better serve your authoring life, Accelerators meeting focused on how to up your game, along with group meetings featuring craft and marketing discussions, writer rings, networking, support, accountability, sprints, and more. Plus, there are hundreds of hours of Teachable videos.
Visit https://www.apex-writers.com for more information.
And, to participate in these events, all you do after joining is to click on “Upcoming Events” for the zoom links.