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The falling action is a short time near the end of your novel. It’s usually no more than a chapter (although can stretch to two if necessary).
Falling action is the period after the climax when life settles to normal (maybe the same normal as before the rising action, or maybe it’s a new kind of normal).
On a plot diagram, falling action is the fourth element in plotting a novel.
4 Elements of Falling Action
These four elements can help you write a strong falling action that leads to the resolution.
#1 – Things are Still Happening
This is not a period of narration about how the world is all rainbows and sunshine now (or not).
It’s still the story and things are still happening. It’s called falling action for a reason because there’s still action (meaning things are still happening).
#2 – Relieves the Tension/Conflict
This doesn’t mean that new tension and conflict can’t be introduced – they can. But, it’s a de-escalation.
The climax was the point of the strongest tension/conflict. The falling action is all downhill from there.
#3 – Precedes Resolution
The falling action precedes the resolution. The resolution is going to come directly after this so the falling action is the time to prepare the reader for the end.
#4 – Plot Points are Wrapping Up
This is your last chance to wrap up all the subplots. To make sure that the reader isn’t left wondering “hmm, whatever happened with __.”
Even if you’re planning a sequel, the plot points of this novel need to be wrapped up.
Can I Skip Falling Action?
Yes, carefully. Not all novels make use of falling action – or they’ll have an extremely short period of falling action.
However, be aware that this can make your novel feel like it ends abruptly.
Falling Action Examples
Ready to see how it’s done for real? Check out these examples of the falling action from modern bestselling and award-winning novels.
GONE GIRL, published in 2012, is a mystery, thriller & suspense novel by Gillian Flynn. The movie was released in 2014.
GONE GIRL spent 8 weeks at #1 on the NYT Bestseller List. It’s estimated the novel sold more than 15 million copies worldwide by 2016.
The climax is the peak of tension with Amy announcing she’s pregnant and what will happen if Nick exposes or leaves her. The falling action is the unpleasantness that results from that as Nick (and everyone else) settles into this new normal.
#1 – Action
The action is mostly mental at this point. A dawning realization for Nick about how his life is going to play out.
#2 – Relief
GONE GIRL breaks this rule. There’s no relief, just an uneasy and unpleasant realization that this story isn’t over. There will be no happily ever after, for anyone.
#3 – Precedes
The resolution is basically non-existent.
#4 – Wrapping Up
All the plots introduced in the novel are wrapped up but the climax and falling action leave room for a lot of questions and new plots.
THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD
THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD, published in 2016, is a historical fiction novel by Colson Whitehead. Amazon Studios is planning a limited drama series based on the novel.
THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the 2016 National Book Award for Fiction.
Cora is getting away!
#1 – Action
Cora is manually pumping the handcar to escape into a dark tunnel. She has no idea where it leads – but is going anyways. She goes for miles and eventually has to walk the final bit.
#2 – Relief
She’s escaping. It doesn’t seem that anyone is following her.
#3 – Precedes
The resolution comes at the end of the tunnel when we find out Cora’s future…or not.
#4 – Wrapping Up
The plots were wrapped up during the climax (when most everyone died).
It’s time to practice because that’s how you’ll become a better writer. Do these writing exercises and prompts for the falling action ASAP.
Exercise: Analyze More Novels
Every genre will be a little different. Choose some of your favorite novels and some novels in the genre you want to write in (if they’re different). Analyze the falling action of each novel.
- What is the falling action?
- How does the falling action relieve the tension of the novel?
- How long is it? Does it precede the resolution?
- Are all the subplots wrapped up?
Exercise: Analyze LITTLE RED
Answer the questions from exercise 1 about the falling action of LITTLE RED-CAP.
Exercise: Adapt LITTLE RED
Now that you understand the falling action of LITTLE RED, it’s time to rewrite it. What if something else had happened?
Your task: Write a new falling action of at least 400 words. Make sure it covers the questions from exercise one!
A thief creates an international protest group to cover their heists.
Your Task: Write a falling action scene of at least 400 words.
I think it’s a great idea to have a notebook (or two hundred) to jot your ideas down in. I like to do all my short writing exercises by hand. Check out these funky notebooks!
Down, Down, Down We Go
You climbed the mountain, planted your flag on the peak, now you’re going back down.
Congratulations – you’re nearing the end of a novel. The only thing left to write is the resolution.
Check out How to Write the Resolution next.
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