The resolution of a story, also known as dénouement, is defined as:
"The final resolution of the intricacies of a plot, as of a drama or novel."
Every beginning needs an end, or at least a conclusion, and the same goes for stories as well. Imagine you begin reading a very engaging murder mystery, but the author never reveals who the murderer is; or a romance novel ends with the reader never knowing what happened to the protagonists. Unfair, right? The unraveling of a plot or resolving of a conflict is very important to any story, and this is known as its resolution. The resolution of a story is the point where the main area of conflict is cleared or resolved. For example, revealing the identity of the murderer, or the dying of a terminally-ill protagonist, are resolutions.
A resolution can occur at any point during the story, though it usually comes at the end. It may also be seen in different parts of the story, pertaining to different situations in the conflict. However, it normally follows the climax, as it works to sum up the entire plot.
What a resolution needs
The resolution must invoke emotions in the readers. They must be able to relate to the characters, feel their sadness and happiness, and go along with them. Writing about the consequences of the climax on the protagonist, his thoughts, emotions, and situation will make the conclusion that much more effective. Simply ending the story by narrating the events will not have that much of an impact. The more realistic and human touch it has, the stronger impression it will leave in your readers' minds.
Glimpse into the future
This is not a hard-and-fast rule, but most authors choose to include an epilogue at the end of the novel, giving the readers a glimpse into the protagonist's future. Sometimes, this is even a part of the actual story, as the final chapter. It can be anything from a few months to many years ahead. For example, in a romantic novel, there can be a year's jump to show the lead pair playing with their first child; or it can go 50 years into the future, showing them as an old couple relaxing in their home.
A relaxing effect
The resolution is meant to ease the tension of the story. It is like a resting period after running a tense race. The fast-paced, emotionally-taxing drama of the story is over, everyone is where they are supposed to be, and the plot has unraveled. The resolution is a relaxation for both, the reader and the characters. In many novels, the protagonists are often seen doing something calm, like sitting in a cafe or driving along a quiet road. This is to give the reader time to come to grips with the story.
Semblance in writing style
The author's style of writing must not change for the resolution. It must be maintained throughout the story. It must also be in keeping with the tone of the book. A serious story cannot have a humorous ending, as it would be inappropriate, and vice versa. It must feel like a neat and complete end to the story.
How to write a resolution
A story needs a resolution because as readers, we would like to know what happened of the characters. It gives an apt end to the entire plot, making the readers feel satisfied. Not only that, it also does justice to the entire effort that was the novel. It is an aftermath of the climax that describes its impact.
There is no set format for how to tie up the created conflicts in the novel. It depends entirely on the individual story. There are many novels that end far too quickly, giving no time to the readers to assimilate the events and come to terms with the story. This leaves room for frustration, and a lot of unanswered questions. Conversely, some novels tend to drag out the endings, boring out the readers and ruining the pace of the story so far. A resolution must be appropriately long, crisp, and to the point. It must address only the main areas of conflict and not beat around the bush.
For example, in a mystery novel, if there are many conflicts created throughout the story, then the resolution will need to be longer. However, for a genre like romance, where the conflict is singular - that of the protagonists not being able to be together, the resolution can be a short one. A positive ending can resolve with the two winding up together, reminiscing about what happened, and moving forward.
German novelist Gustav Freytag came up with this concept, which was mainly developed to study the structure of ancient Greek drama and Shakespearean plays. It was also called the Freytag pyramid. It basically described how these dramas were constructed and what sequence they followed. The following is the structure.
Exposition is the introduction to the story. The backdrop of the plot, the history, personality, and situation of the characters, the setting and theme of the story, and the main conflict, all form a part of exposition.
This is the part where the story takes off, and heads to the climax. It is the buildup to the main action. This part of the story must be done right, so as to deliver a maximum effect of the climax.
This is the highest point of the story, where the plot changes in direction. It can turn either for the better or the worse for the protagonist, depending on whether the story is a comedy or a tragedy.
This can be described as the final confrontation between the protagonist and the conflict/antagonist in the story.
This is where the story concludes and the plot unravels. The reader comes to know what has really happened, and the fate of the characters is also clear.
Ancient dramas would usually follow this path. In modern times, with more and more quirky stories and writing styles coming up, the lines of this structure can often blur, with the various aspects following a different order each time.
Some Shakespearean Examples
Romeo and Juliet
In this classic story, the conflict is that the two lovers are from warring families, and their love is unacceptable. Hence, they decide to elope and marry. Here, the resolution of the story is the misunderstanding between Romeo and Friar, which makes Romeo think that Juliet is dead, when she has actually just taken a sleeping potion. He kills himself out of grief. When Juliet wakes and finds him dead, she kills herself too. Their deaths finally bring the families together.
The conflict in Hamlet is that although Prince Hamlet wants to avenge the death of his beloved father, his timid nature and inability to take the bold step of killing his uncle keep deterring him from achieving his goal. The resolution comes in the form of the Prince finally taking the life of his villainous uncle, after the latter plots his murder, and successfully poisons him. Facing his imminent death gives Hamlet the much-needed courage and push to finally pay his uncle back for killing his father.
An improper or half-done conclusion can seriously hamper the reputation of an author. No one will like to read a novel that never resolves the conflict in the story, would they? The resolution of a story can possibly be called its most important aspect.