All good stories must come to an end
The beginning of a story may be the key to keep you reading. But the ending is the part that stays with you.
Climax versus Denouement
“Did they get together in the end?”
“Did it end with the kids finding the treasure?”
“In the end, did the detective catch the killer?”
These are the sorts of questions I get asked about books I’ve read. The answer to all of them is yes and no. Yes, they did get together, the kids did find the treasure, and the detective did catch the killer. But no, that isn’t what happened at the end. That was what happened in the story climax. Something else happened after that.
Why did something else happen? Because we still had questions.
Authors tend to use the French term ‘denouement’ – which literally translates as untying – instead of saying ‘the ending’. I think this is because many people use the word ‘ending’ to mean the resolution of the plot.
So we say ‘the denouement’ to mean the final part of the story. And ‘the ending’ to mean both the story climax and the denouement.
Why does it matter?
What you call these sections of a book doesn’t really matter. But having both of these parts does matter. The climax resolves the main conflict in the book. But there are other threads to the story that may also need to be resolved. Knots that aren’t fully untied yet.
For example, in a murder mystery, there is usually more than one suspect. When we find out the actual perpetrator, we keep reading. We want to know why this other suspect lied, and why that other suspect couldn’t prove their alibi.
This is where it gets tricky. The author may want to leave something unresolved. Either to let you choose your preferred outcome, or to set things up for the next book in the series. There is a very fine line between resolving just enough and leaving nagging unanswered questions.
The element of surprise
In some genres, the story climax is an explosive reveal that shocks and stuns. In others, we have an inkling of where the story is going right from the start. Even if it’s obvious what is going to happen, how it happens can be unexpected. With this sort of climax, the denouement often reminds us of something we had read several chapters before, and had almost forgotten about.
A perfect ending surprises us, and then explains why what happened had to happen. It leaves us wondering about the characters, yet satisfied the story is complete.
Have you read any books with brilliant endings? What did you love about them?
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