Denouements and Epilogues
Once the mystery of a story or the main plot dilemma is resolved, you wouldn’t simply end the story. You need to show how the resolution affected the characters. That wrap-up is known as the denouement. It can be incorporated into the end of the last chapter after the climax, or can be as long as another one or two short chapters. Only then does the story end.
An Epilogue is a small additional section added after the denouement. It is reserved to show how the characters were affected by the resolution after a period of time has passed. The period of time will depend on how the story ends.
For example, if a couple decides to call off a wedding, an immediate epilogue night show one of them traveling afar to forget. However, if the marriage was doomed from the beginning, the epilogue might show the couple having their first children, a set of twins, and promising one another to make the marriage work.
A good epilogue should be no more than several paragraphs to one brief chapter. It serves as yet an extra clincher to the denouement. You can also use the epilogue to also plant clues to an upcoming sequel.
In my award-winning thriller, River Bones, I have a strong subplot. After Sara solves the primary mystery, I use two short chapters for the denouement, mainly because when people realized who the perpetrator was, so many additional clues turned up to cinch his guilt. Plus, several occurrences couldn’t have happened until the perpetrator was caught. Incredibly, these confirming clues could only be found after the perp is caught. Talk about a story writing itself! Then I use an epilogue to show the protagonist and her love interest cementing their relationship. By moving the story forward several months in the epilogue, I am able to show that the two characters will have a new life together where the main plot and subplot become entwined into one story. That left the lives of the characters open for sequels.
But what if you put the ending at the beginning? Roland Merullo did this in A Little Love Story. It was intriguing because by the end of the book, you’re left wondering what happened – and then you remember that you have known since the first page. Finishes like this are unique and take some good experience to pull off.
If you do this, the transition from the present to telling the backstory must be as smooth as possible. This method negates some of the feelings of jumping into back story. Merullo pulled it off, but I do not like telling my entire story through backstory. Just me. I like moving toward an eventual outcome, not reading the outcome first. It’s akin to a habit some people have of reading the ending of a book first.
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