Some Thoughts on That Pesky “Falling Action” in Your Plot

1179701_old_books_2Question: who remembers being taught the basic “plot pyramid” sometime in middle school or high school? Probably both?

I know I learned it in both: “rising action” (tension and conflict building up), which leads to the “climax” of the story (the big moment, the big scene, which I’ve written about here), then “falling action” (where fall out is confronted), which ends in “resolution.”

Today I want to talk about falling action, because I’m editing the falling action of “The Magic Council” and because it’s the part of the “plot pyramid” that causes me the most trouble (usually) when I write.

FALLING ACTION TRAPS

There are plenty of ways to write good falling action, and there is never any “one size fits all” approach for good writing. That said, there ARE a few ways I’ve seen falling action go wrong that authors should be aware of.

If you have beta readers you really trust, it might not be a bad idea to ask them how they feel about these issues. Do they see a problem in any of the following areas?

  1. TOO MUCH FALLING ACTION. Generally, most authors shouldn’t have a whole lot of material following the climax. What engages readers is that build up and then delivery. After the “big moment,” things change. Mood and tone often change. You want to leave readers wanting more, wishing the book could be longer, not getting bored and frustrated because you dragged the ending out. (This is often my personal faux pas, by the way.)
  2. DROPPING A SUBPLOT. Falling action is the place to tie up your loose subplot threads. Since your subplots should be connected to each other and the main plot in various ways, it shouldn’t be too hard to wrap them up without a lot of fuss. (Sometimes you can wrap up two or three in one scene or conversation. Challenge yourself to this. It’s doable.) That said, it’s easy to forget we left something hanging. Editors and beta readers are great for pointing this out, but doing that kind of heavy lifting ourselves, so that those who are helping us can focus on deeper, subtler issues rather than having to point out bigger things, is always more beneficial.
  3. RUSHING THE PACE. Sometimes pacing isn’t about word count; sometimes it’s about how much depth you give in a sentence of the same length. Sometimes choosing to give two details about two different things rather than four about one is a pacing choice. Pacing is all about mood and helping your reader feel settled and comfortable. And since falling action is SUPPOSED to fall fast and not be too long, it can be tempting to rush it.
  4. UNREALISTIC CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT. Falling action is all about accepting and responding to the changes in life necessitated by the climax. Authors can, and should, display character growth and development here. But that’s different than a character’s action making so little sense that readers are left scratching their heads, or worse, angry.

So, what do you think of falling action? I always loved The Harry Potter books and their wind downs. They spoke to the heart of soul of the story. The human lessons of Harry’s journey were always found in the falling action, for me at least.

Do you have examples of good falling action? Do you find it hard to write, or tend of fall into one of the traps I mentioned (or a different one?)

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15 responses to “Some Thoughts on That Pesky “Falling Action” in Your Plot

  1. I’m thinking about how the last chapter of some books show the heroes talking and going their separate ways. Kind of like an epilogue, but it’s right after the main event. This really helps create true breaks between books of a series.

    I remember the line chart more than the pyramid. I think that’s why I do a few up and downs in a story. Various resolutions that help lead up to the big one for the main plot. At least that’s the best way I can think of explaining it.

  2. I’ve read a couple of series lately where the main climax is at the end of the book, unresolved until the follow up novel. I’m not sure how I feel about this. It seems to create the situation where there is a bit of a lull early on in the following novel (life happening) before the tension and pace starts to build again. It doesn’t feel at all satisfying for there to be no resolution. There’s a danger of the whole series becoming solely plot driven with no character development.

    • I don’t like this. I don’t mind series–in fact, I love them–but I do feel every book in a series needs its own story that is a COMPLETE story (within a story). The story that is the series novel should wrap up fully within itself. Of course, new discoveries and new significance of events can arise in later books. But each story should be complete unto itself. Just my opinion, but anything else KILLS me, haha!

  3. I have really enjoyed the falling action of the Iron Druid Series (the last book excluded). In each book, the climax occurs very close to the end of the book and subplots are tied up nicely without being conveniently done so. Each book’s story stands alone but what I like about each is that the realm of characters are established in the first book, each subsequent book’s story revolves around, as usual, the overall interaction of the main character, the Iron Druid, with all characters – and there are many – but focuses on a single problem and solution. So there is no cliffhanger ending and no obvious lead in to the next story but the way the realm of characters is set up and the main character’s attitude throughout each story makes you interested to read any more stories that you can about him.
    As for me and my writing, I do very poorly with falling action. I always want there to be something more exciting or interesting and unfortunately that is not appropriate at that point, it needs to wrap up not add more intrigue.

    • My problem is that I try to wrap things up too explicitly and with too much detail 🙂 I have never heard of the Iron Druid series but it sounds interesting!

      • So the problem then becomes how much do you spell out for the reader why things worked out the way that they did vs how much do you assume the reader understood of why things worked out the way they did? One of my pet peeves is when authors leave pretty much everything up to the reader – making the reader decide why things ended they way they did and if that ending really happened or was imaginary or even in some stories, making the reader decide how the story ended

  4. I actually find falling action easy to write. I’m not sure why. In a recent MS I was rewriting, the final chapters dealt with the romancey subplot introduced in the first chapter, so it made sense to tie them up; whereas, the rest of the book was concerned with the supernatural and mystery. I don’t have a plan for dealing with these sorts of falling action, though – it’s not something I think about when first writing.

    • It’s so fun to have different kinds of subplots! Supernatural and mystery sounds fun. I’m a big fantasy/sci-fi person, when I’m not reading Agatha Christie or watching Law and Order!

  5. At first, I taught myself never to read a whole book I had written after I was done with it. That was an editor’s job. But, being only a teenager, I could not find an editor, and my family wasn’t too willing to read over my work. So I put my book onto an iTune’s spoken track and listened to it throughout the day, noting the chapter title, and then filling in what parts were wrong. I found out that I had lots of little subplots or ideas that just didn’t work. I am still in the process of fixing those, but it definitely benefited me to hear my work being read.

  6. I get annoyed by falling action meetings, as in all the surviving characters get together and talk about what happened after the climax. It feels too much like telling and not showing.

  7. I like to use the falling action right at the end with the climax to the short story building to a climax there, leaving the reader something to think about. My stories are fantasy with lots of symbolism and character development-usually only two or three main characters. I am new at this-I’ve learned a lot from all your comments-thanks!

    • I have learned so much from the comments too! I’m always amazed by the thoughts and experience of all the wonderful writers who stop by! 🙂 I agree with you, all good fiction leaves the reader with something to think about

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