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A 'dénouement' is a the final resolution of a story plot, in which all unresolved issues are resolved and mysteries explained. It typically happens after the exciting climax.
The dénoument may also be used as a form of housekeeping to keep the overall flow of the story neat and tidy, and resolving any left-over tensions.
Uses for a dénouement include:
Most of all, the dénouement should give a sense of closure to the story's audience.
The dénouement may be a deliberate scene where the hero assembles the main cast and explains what happened. While being a summary of the (often hidden) story, this may itself be extended to create drama and excitement, for example where the audience is led to think that one person is being accused only to find the hero suddenly turning to the real villain. This is typical in some detective genres.
A simpler form may be in the discussion between a naive individual and a wise character (who may well be the hero). The naive person asks questions about outstanding uncertainties that the reader may have. The wise person then explains these, hence resolving all questions and leaving the reader with a sense of completion and satisfaction.
If a sequel to the story is intended, then not all threads may be resolved as outstanding threats and questions are left for follow-up stories to address. New questions and tensions might even be created.
In complex stories there may be minor dénouements along the way that are used to wrap up sub-stories and segments. Some of these may be false, being deliberately 'closed' to cause confusion when they later reappear.
A hidden dénouement occurs where an explanation appears, but where completion is not obvious to the reader.
The dénouement may not be used when the author deliberately and suddenly ends the story on a surprise note.
Following on from Arthur Conan Doyle using Sherlock Holmes to explain how he solved his cases, Agatha Christie made much use of dénouement in book series such as Poirot and Miss Marple. The hero gets all the suspects in a room and either tells the story of each character in turn or gets them to explain important details.
Some stories have a 'what happened to the characters' piece, typically showing the good people having a happy life while the less moral characters continue to struggle.
After the final scenes at Mordor and Gondor, Tolkein's Lord of the Rings has a very long sequence of tying up of loose strings, including sorting out Saruman, restoring the Shire and the departure of the elves, along with Frodo, Bilbo and Gandalf.
Stories are mostly made up of patterns of tension and closure. Dénouement is the closing of outstanding tensions. In practice, the main plot usually ends at the climax, while the story ends at the dénouement.
The dénouement as a distinct stage is also known as resolution. As a device, it can be used as a method of tidying up loose ends, even in sub-sections of the story.
As the story reaches its climax, many tensions are resolved, yet other questions may still be outstanding. The author typically makes deliberate use of dénouement to ensure all tension-creating questions and uncertainties are resolved, such that the audience feels the sense of satisfaction and pleasure that a strong closure creates.
Dénouement comes from the French word meaning 'to untie'. It indicates that all the remaining knots (or 'knotty problems') created by the story are now untied and resolved.