Sunday, March 26, 2017

Writing the Denouement - What's the Right Amount of Wrap-up?

So... this is *MY* big news this week. How about you all?

Tee hee hee!

Yeah, okay, I'm still in a daze, totally gobsmacked, and running about in this kind of gleeful haze where I whisper to myself, "My fantasy romance, THE PAGES OF THE MIND, finaled in Paranormal Romance in RWA's RITA®  awards!!!"

To unpack that a little, for those not familiar, RWA is Romance Writers of America and the RITA® Award is our premiere award for published books in the romance genre. (There's also the Golden Heart, for unpublished works.) Because romance is an enormous umbrella with many subgenres, there are thirteen categories. "Paranormal Romance" is basically all science fiction or fantasy style stories with romance in the story arc. Yeah, it's a polyglot of a subgenre, but there you are. With entries capped at 2,000, and every entry read and ranked by five judges, it's a tremendous effort. It's basically the Academy Awards for romance authors. The winners will be announced at the very glam awards ceremony at the Annual Conference, which will be in Orlando this year, July 22-29.

Okay! Moving on...

Our topic this week is on story structure, specifically asking the SFF Seven about the Denouement: How long do you spend wrapping up a novel?

I'm very interested in the answer to this question because it's something I've been working on. I get "ended too abruptly" as a comment more than any other (I'm pretty sure - I haven't annotated or anything), and across all the genres I write. On the occasion that someone I'm friendly with makes the comment and I'm able to dig a bit, they'll always say, "Oh, it's a good thing - I just wanted MORE!"

Wanting more IS a good thing, but ending too soon isn't so much.

The way ideal story structure works is like this. We all learned this in grade school. I don't know who else among the SFF 7 uses this, but it's a standard basis to work from.
Really, it's not so even, and it will look more or less like this for the Hero's Journey, which is how a lot of SFF stories go:
Thanks to Digital Worlds for this excellent graphic!

When you break this out into percentages, it looks like this:
Act I, Beginning: first 25%
Act II: middle 50%
Act II Climax:: at 75%
Act III Climax: at 90%
Denouement: 10%

"Denouement," for those who've forgotten high school English class, is a French word that means "untying." Basically that final percentage is for unraveling all those knots that got snarled and tightened along the way.

BUT - and this is the interesting part to me - if you measure the actual space of story after the final climax in most stories, it's not 10% of the total. Many authors end within pages of the ultimate climax. One exception to this is urban fantasy author Jennifer Estep. She has a good chunk after the story's climax, which she regards as a kind of "bookend" to the opening scene. She also uses that to set up the next book in the series.

Me? I do chart my own books and ... yeah, the percentages say I end abruptly. I never hit anywhere near 10%. It's more like 2-3%. But I'm trying to change this! I'm making an effort to add more onto the ending, untying some of those knots, to see if it makes a difference.

In fact, one book I deliberately made the effort to do that with is THE PAGES OF THE MIND, which had 8% of denouement after the Act III climax. Did I mention that finaled for a RITA???

Tee hee hee.


I'm interested in both reader and writer experiences with this. How much ending do you like? Who are some authors who handle this really well?


  1. Congratulations again on the RITA nomination - VERY exciting and so well deserved. HUGS!

  2. Cheers, Jeffe!!!

    As a reader, I love having a quick ending to a book if it is part of a series because it leaves me hungry for more. More time with the characters and more of what happens after the climax. If it's a stand alone and it's too quick then I feel a little cheated.

    1. Thanks, Lexi! I can see that - makes total sense. :-)