Let me try to push through the weeds of my own tangled thinking on this week’s topic.
The denouement is the part where everything is explained and wrapped up, correct? In traditional mysteries, the climactic scene usually includes revelations by the protagonist, the criminal, maybe even other characters, that lead to the “aha” realization about the motives, the means, and the opportunities of the crime. Maybe that’s the denouement?
But in some stories – mine included – there’s a short chapter after that in which the threads of the secondary plot, the new status of the protagonist’s life, the punishment meted out for the crime, and assorted bits and pieces the reader may have wondered about get some attention. That’s what I’d call the wrap-up. It may include our heroine explaining what happened to a clueless boyfriend, or to her cat, but it’s not where the actual revelation of the puzzle takes place. So, is that the denouement?
(You’d hardly believe I was an English Lit major and an honors graduate with all this blathering. But I couldn’t diagram a sentence in seventh grade either. Writing is something I learned pretty much by reading, but without all the correct terminology.)
The revelation part of the novel is a hard one to carry off in a mystery because it requires some degree of confession or having the killer get caught with a knife in his hand. And yet, if we are writing traditional mysteries with no working police and CSI teams, pretty much the only way we’re going to get to that crucial moment is by persuading the killer to engage in some kind of terribly revealing dialogue.
The wrapping up chapter, at least for me, is like the chocolate cake for dessert. It’s the most fun to write, a pleasant, gossipy sort of thing when the protagonist has had time to calm down, blink a few times, and start thinking about her normal life. It’s fun because I get to plant a little question mark that is intended to get the reader interested in what happens next while letting my protagonist breathe normally and eat chocolate.
So, fellow LadyKiller and other readers, which is the denouement? It’s way too late for me to go back to college, so I’d like to know what you think.