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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » denouement length?

   
Author Topic: denouement length?
Wannabe
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I am currently writing the second book in a series and find that, unlike the first book, this one has an extremely short denouement. By that I mean there is the intense, climactic, action-heavy part of the story and then a very brief resolution that ends the book and segues into the next one. Is that a problem? Do people want a nice long breather at the end to unwind? Or is this a non issue?
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Osiris
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It really is hard to tell without reading the book. The question you should ask yourself is if you left any important loose ends untied. Sure, you want to have some loose ends that are relevant to the next book in your series, but you also want the reader to feel satisfied that some things have been resolved. I wouldn't stuff your denouement with irrelevant stuff for the sake of a breather, nor would I end right after the climax unless everything that needs resolution has been resolved.
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Meredith
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The purpose of the denouement is not so much a breather as to set the characters and the story back down on the ground again.

The first "Star Wars" movie--by which I mean the one later titled "A New Hope"--has the medal ceremony at the end added for just this purpose.

Generally speaking, it should be about 5 to at most 10 percent of the length of the book--or 5000 to 10000 words of a 100000-word novel. (According to David Farland)

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babooher
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I would like to paraphrase what my 8th grade teacher told us when we asked how long our paper should be. Like anything in writing, the length should be like a woman's skirt, long enough to cover the subject but short enough to keep it interesting.
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extrinsic
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A denouement's main purposes are to portray the final outcome of a main dramatic complication — that's what Webster's indicates — and to restore the emotional equilibrium that was upset by realizing the main dramatic complication in an opening. The Star Wars medal ceremony does both by putting paid to the dramatic complication's transformation unequivocally and irrevocably.

How long a denoument act should be depends to a degree on the lengths of previous acts. An exposition act, which introduces the dramatic complication, should be about the same length. Each of three rising action sequences of the second act, about the same length. A climax act, the third act, about the same length. The fourth act, each of a falling action act's three sequences, about the same length.

Widely varying denouement act length to other act length proportions can be abrupt or drag for readers or, more significantly, signal that the parts are out of proportion. 1:3:1:3:1, nine portions for exposition act, rising action act, climax act, falling action act, denouement act.

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Pyre Dynasty
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I think movies and TV have shortened out denouement-spans. Because of time constraints so much film hits the climax and then BAM: credits roll.

I like calling it consequences. I think more books should focus on the consequences of the climax. Show your people picking up the pieces and trying to figure out how to proceed from there.

I can see how you might want to give it a cliff-hanger ending then jump into the next book, but I don't believe that's effective. Yes you hear people talk about how they can't wait for the next book when that happens, but do they ever go from there and talk about how good the current book is by itself? You even notice how people tend to not like the middle of a trilogy. They say trilogies tend to dip in the middle. There are many theories about why, but I think it is that they all tend to have tiny/non-existent denouements. It makes them a less satisfying story alone.

Compare that to an episodic series. (Harry Potter, Wheel of Time, Fablehaven, Dresden.) Each episode builds on each other but they are also pieces of art by themselves.

If you want to add a teaser for the next book don't have it be your climax. Have it be something new, like have your family come home from their ordeal and find a letter-bomb in their mailbox from their uncle Charlie.

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enigmaticuser
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I agree with Pyre, consequences. I want to see the fallout of the action. If there was a huge epic battle and then the credits roll, I feel like there's been no victory. Nothing was saved.

A while back, wow . . . 9 months, just realized. So I was watching the final season and then final episode of Monk. In most episodes the mystery is solved and the denouement takes up the last 7 or so minutes of the story. Usually rounding with some jokes that don't really set the story on its coast into the sunset.

But this one obviously had to resolve the main lingering question about Monk's wife's murder. Yet, I went in with similar expectations, but the case we'd been waiting eight years for is solve in like the first 20 minutes. I felt kind of lost, what are they going to do with the remaining time?

But, in the end it was great because the resolved what became of his assistant, the police he worked with, his career as a consulting investigator, and most importantly gave him a daughter from his murdered wife. So while it felt weird at first, the sense of victory, of redemption of the conflict made it well worth it and memorable.

A denouement should be like the peace at the end of a dinner meal, lingering over the empty plates with perhaps too much food still left in the dishes. The denouement should tell you (unless its a warning tale) that a new day has sprung, that all the pain and destruction had a purpose that lead to good.

I'd say you could pull the end of The Two Towers, Sam's monologue for what a good denouement should be . . .though I can't really remember if any of that was in the book. If not, then it should have been.

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Wannabe
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Thanks, everyone. That was helpful. I think what I'm coming up with works, however it is hard to show a lot of the consequences since they appear further down the road in later books. But I will definitely show what consequences I can.
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enigmaticuser
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I don't think necessarily that "consequences" is the right word. In my opinion, it's not so much what happens after but something that says why what just happened MATTERED.

We just read some conflict, IF something was resolved, IF something was won, then there should be some trophy, some victory, some reward.

If we look at the end of Empire Strikes Back, what consequences do we have? Nothing that sounds like "happily ever after." Hans been taken by a bounty hunter, Luke's father is trying to kill/corrupt him, the rebel fleet is scattered, cloud city has fallen to imperial control . . . But, we know that Luke has a huge piece of a puzzle, he can stand up to his father and the dark side, Han CAN be rescued, and hey, the Princess is safe again. So not every detail is taken care of, but we're left with a sense that something has been gained (or at least moved forward) so that the conflict/action was not for nothing.

Great example of a REALLY BAD DENOUEMENT shows the opposite. X-Men 3: X-Men United. At the beginning: Vaccine threatens mutants. Gene Grey is being mourned, Scott can grow facial hair. Oh and Rogue can't kiss her boyfriend.

Conflict/Action: Scott gets killed (why?). Bunch of mutants get vaccinated losing their power. Professor X gets killed. Rogue gets turned "normal."

And the denouement? Gene Grey is now ALSO dead with Scott (why?). Wolverine can shave (why?). Everyone who was vaccinated (remember, that big threat? The thing everyone was worried about?) gets their powers back. Oh . . . and Professor X is NOT dead.

Empire Strikes Back, something matters. X-Men, nothing that just happened matters.

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