How to use Falling Action in a story

In this fourth part of the series on the dramatic arcs we look at what constitutes the Falling Action and how you can write it.

What is Falling Action?

Falling Action refers to the series of events that succeed the climax. In a lay sense it is the opposite of Rising Action. If the Rising Action leads to the climax, the Falling Action leads to the resolution or the conclusion.

Going back to our recurring example of the famous Hans Christian Andersen story, The Emperor’s New Clothes, the falling action of the story is this:

The emperor shuddered, for he knew that they were right, but he thought, “The procession must go on!

In the climax of the story the Emperor suddenly realizes that he has no clothes on. The Falling Action consists of how he makes a decision for the procession to continue despite the situation he is in.

Things to Understand About Falling Action

  • It Leads to the Resolution

The question you need to answer is: what happens after all the action? What happens after the bad guys have been beaten up the good guys? It’s simple in a Bollywood context. The cops arrive! That’s exactly the kind of event we are talking about, a simple event that triggers the all-is-well end you are trying to write.

  • Tying up the loose ends.

Most loose ends get tied up at this point. As a writer, you get to reveal that cool trick your character has been doing that has been causing readers their wonderment. If you’re thinking Sholay, think about the coin that Jai tosses, the one that always ensures his win.

  • It is less dramatic than the Climax

Whichever genre you are writing in, the falling action in my opinion, is least dramatic. (I am not saying that there is no drama, I am saying in comparison this point is the least). All other dramatic arcs have a fair bit more of drama.

What Happens to the Conflicts that you’ve created for your readers?

Around this time, this point where you get to the Falling Action, most of the conflicts that you’ve created need to be resolved. For instance, in the book (or movie) Life of Pi, the major conflict here is Pi’s fight for survival in the ocean. The climax of the story would be when he finds land – in this case, Mexico.  (For months, Pi has been aboard a lifeboat with Richard Parker, a Bengal Tiger for company.) The Falling Action in this case is when the he is rescued by two Japanese nationals and the interview that follows.

The resolution of the major conflict (flight of survival, in this case) signals the commencement of the Falling Action.

Notice how these events lead to the climax.

What about the Suspense?!

Note that falling action does not require you to reveal all the suspense. Writers are known to reveal suspense in the last page.

Why is Falling Action Important?

Imagine if, in the Life of Pi, you read about how Pi lands in Mexico and the story ends there. Wouldn’t you, as a reader want to know how Pi reacted when he met human beings after 227 days at sea with a few animals? Wouldn’t you want to ‘see’ him happy and settled? Although you most probably would be happy for Pi that he has found land, wouldn’t you feel cheated if the story ended at that point? Wouldn’t you want some kind of a transition to the point where Pi ‘currently’ is – an older Pi narrating the story in flashback?

It is the road from the climax to the end or to the resolution. If this road is vacant, the story might end too abruptly.

Things to Remember when writing the Falling Action

  1. Something has to happen

Falling Action. Never forget that there is action. You’ve taken your reader to the point of maximum tension (read climax) and now you have to take the reader out of it to the point of logical conclusion. Something has to happen. Things have to change. Okay the good has defeated the bad – what next? What does the good do? This is also known as the reversal.

  1. You have to pave the way to the end

Okay, so the end is “happily ever after.”How did you get there? What happened after warring parents consented? Did the bride’s mother and the groom’s mother sit together and plan the wedding?

  1. Resolve all the Conflicts and Sub-Plots

Please, please reveal who is who’s son or daughter! It’s about time. (Until and unless this is the primary suspense and you’d rather reveal it in the last line). In the movie Finding Nemo, the climax would be that point when Nemo rescues the trapped fish from the sea.

The Falling Action then would be: Nemo eventually saves Dorie and Marlin begins to trust his son. Trusting Nemo was a point of conflict and in the Falling Action, the problem has been resolved. Note that resolution can be positive or negative but it has to be credible. For instance, say Nemo does not earn the trust of his father. How will that make you feel?

If you choose a negative resolution (unfulfilled desires despite a turbulent climatic fight, denial of something etc) you need to ask yourself one question – how will it make the reader feel? If ‘cheated’ is the answer, stay away.

(A conflict is different from a loose end. A loose end is typically information that has not been provided. This is mostly insignificant – that is to say that it does not affect the trajectory of the plot but is still something that might alter the reader’s understanding.)

Is there another important thing to remember that you think we’ve missed? Please leave a comment!

About Lavanya

Lavanya Shanbhogue-Arvind | MBA | Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Special Prize (2011) | MFA in Creative Writing programme (City University of Hong Kong) | Her literary fiction novel will be published soon by Roli Books.

One thought on “How to use Falling Action in a story”

  1. Raghav Kinger

    Hi Lavanya
    Your posts have truly helped me…
    I still have some queries and I’d like to clear them…
    Can you help me??

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