How Denouement Is Used in a Narrative

The conventional denouement to a fairy tale
The conventional denouement to a fairy tale.

In a narrative (within an essay, short story, novel, play, or film), the denouement is the event or events following the climax; the resolution or clarification of the plot.

A story that ends without a denouement is called an open narrative.


From the Old French, "unknotting"

Examples and Observations

  • "One might have thought that in choosing Jack and the Beanstalk, [Berwick] Kaler was returning to traditional narrative. Yet having found a plot, he contrives to lose it again pretty quickly. Though there is a character named Jack, and a fast-growing vegetable so rampant it threatens to crush the auditorium, any giants who came to the auditions with their fi-fi-fo-fum routines honed will have been turned away disappointed. Instead, the denouement involves David Leonard's dastardly villain being crushed by an enormous chicken while a chorus of nuns swings from some bell ropes and an invading horde of puzzled green Martians looks on."
    (Alfred Hickling, "Jack and the Beanstalk--Review." The Guardian, Dec. 13, 2010)
  • "Every tragedy is in part Complication and in part Denouement; the incidents before the opening scene, and often certain also of those within the play, forming the Complication; and the rest the Denouement. By Complication I mean all from the beginning of the story to the point just before the change in the hero's fortunes; by Denouement, all from the beginning of the change to the end."
    (Aristotle, Poetics, translated by Ingram Bywater)
  • "Denouement means wrapping up of loose ends, and it includes a demonstration of how the hero or heroine has changed. In the story pattern for nonfiction, the corresponding device is the 'summary.' The plans made or actions taken reveal what he or she has learned from the experience."
    (Elizabeth Lyon, A Writer's Guide to Nonfiction. Perigee, 2003)
  • "Toy Story 3 is wondrously generous and inventive. It is also, by the time it reaches a quiet denouement that balances its noisy beginning, moving in the way that parts of Up were. That is, this film--this whole three-part, 15-year epic--about the adventures of a bunch of silly plastic junk turns out also to be a long, melancholy meditation on loss, impermanence, and that noble, stubborn, foolish thing called love."
    (A.O. Scott, "Voyage to the Bottom of the Day Care Center." The New York Times, June 13, 2010)
  • "Imagine the feeling you would have had if Saving Private Ryan had 'ended' and the credits rolled immediately after Captain Miller's hand stopped shaking, indicating that he had drawn his last breath. Bad enough that Tom Hanks has died on screen. But now we're expected to walk outside and get in our cars and head home?
    "Despite the obvious implication, movies don't end with the 'outcome of the final battle.' Sure, the outcome answers the question(s) raised by the writer at the end of the first act. In that sense, there is a conclusion. But we crave more as moviegoers, don't we? We're not ready just yet to let go of the story or its characters, are we?
    "Why is why every great ending needs a 'denouement.' . . .
    "[T]he denouement is the main character's and/or the rest of the world's reaction to the outcome of the final battle."
    (Drew Yanno, The Third Act: Writing a Great Ending to Your Screenplay. Continuum, 2006)

Pronunciation: dah-new-MAHN

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "How Denouement Is Used in a Narrative." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 26). How Denouement Is Used in a Narrative. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "How Denouement Is Used in a Narrative." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 4, 2023).