"And they all lived happily ever after."
Too short? Too abrupt? Missing your favorite character already? Fortunately, that line is not the denouement. The ball after the dragon's been slain and the prince rescued, when our happy couple announces their engagement, the families rejoice, a few jokes are exchanged, and the fairies fall into the cake. That broader scene is the denouement.
How long is too long? Too short? Just right? Well, Goldilocks, my off-the-cuff advice would be a chapter of commensurate length as all the other chapters.
Three things you want to include in the denouement:
- Expose any lingering plot secrets/hold-backs
- Welfare-check your primary and beloved characters
- Hint at the future of your protag (even if you're writing a standalone)
- If you've killed your protag, then a glimpse of the future for their cause.
The difference between a denouement and an epilogue is usually the time gap and final reveals. The denouement stays in the timeline of the story and reveals specific plot secrets. The epilogue fast-forwards months/years and has no obligation to the plot, just the characters.
Has anyone encountered a denouement that went on too long? Let me know in the comments what made you feel, "oh, just get this over with already!"