Falling action takes place at the finale of the story. The protagonist returns to their ordinary world a changed person, often carrying the elixir they sought. Although it takes place after the climax, the resolution of the story needs to be satisfying for the reader. It should give the reader a sense of closure and completion.
It’s said that the first chapter sells the current book, and the last chapter sells the next one. This is the time to tie up all the loose ends and for the protagonist to make peace with their past. It’s a bringing together of the A and B plots and combining the external and internal journey for your character.
A satisfying ending will give your readers a book hangover for days.
The first chapter sells the current book, and the last chapter sells the next one.Mickey Spillane
How to use falling action
To use falling action effectively you should show your character reborn, perhaps with new status, as outlined in the hero's journey. In Star Wars, Luke really should have got the girl, but she was his sister, so that wasn’t going to work. If Star Wars had been written by George RR Martin rather than George Lucas, Luke could have got the girl but it would have distracted from the universal appeal of the Star Wars venture.
Warning: More spoiler alerts ahead!
Falling action can also be a final battle. Katniss Everdeen prepares to eat the berries in The Hunger Games, which would have prevented the Gamemakers from winning their aim of having Peeta and Katniss fight to the death. In this scene, Katniss emerges without killing herself or Peeta. She’s victorious and still a rebel.
For Louisa Clark in Me Before You by Jojo Moyes she appears to have made peace with Will Traynor’s suicide. She’s carrying out his last wishes by taking herself to Paris to eat croissants and drink coffee sitting on wobbly chairs at a street cafe. It’s a very visual scene and exactly how Will described it. The reader is dragged into the middle of a street cafe, hearing the sounds of distant traffic and smelling the coffee and melting butter. Louisa reads Will’s letter, and then she gets up and walks away, heading into her new life. I was sobbing.
Examples from real books
Anton Chekov is credited with saying that the last ninety seconds of a play are the most important. This is where there is one last plot kick and the theme of the play is revealed.
The finale of The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro is devastatingly sad. Stevens, the butler, has taken a few days’ holiday to visit Miss Kenton, the housekeeper with whom he worked at Darlington Hall. Miss Kenton left twenty years beforehand to get married and Stevens believes that her recent letter means her marriage is over and she wants to return to work at Darlington Hall. When he meets Miss Kenton, they talk for two hours. She reveals amongst other things that her life may have been better if she’d married him, but she returns to her husband. Stevens lets her leave and does not tell her how he feels. It is only after she has left on the bus and someone offers Mr. Stevens a handkerchief that the reader knows he is crying.
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway has an almost circular plot structure. At the beginning of the novel, Robert Jordan is lying in a pine forest waiting for something to happen. At the end of the novel, he is lying in a pine forest waiting to die. He has a broken leg and cannot move. He cannot save himself.
Hemingway builds the tension throughout the last few chapters of the novel. The goal is still to blow up the bridge, but Jordan no longer has the means nor the manpower to do so. Pablo reappears, which resolves the immediate problem, and the goal looks achievable. In the end, the goal of blowing up the bridge is utterly pointless and Jordan waits to die, not for the cause but to protect the one he loves.
The power of love and the death of a way of life are the themes of The Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa. After saving the village there are only the two samurai and the apprentice left alive. Four others died and are buried in the hills surrounding the village. In the final scenes Kanbei and Shichiroji ride away with the young apprentice Katsushiro starting to leave and Shino, with whom Katsushiro has become enamored, turns her back on him and with the other villagers begins the planting. For the farmers, life simply goes on. The farmers have won not the samurai. Their way of life—their entire world is coming to an end, and they can do absolutely nothing about it. It’s an incredibly poignant ending.
The final chapters of The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini are very poignant too. Amir, the central character returns to Afghanistan to find Sohrab, the son of his friend Hassan. He finds and then loses the boy, later finding him again at the mosque. It transpires that the boy has been abused as was his father before him and it is one of the reasons that Amir must be successful in his quest to adopt Sohrab. He cannot let the boy, who is also his nephew, down in the same way he let his friend and half-brother down.
When Amir goes to tell Sohrab the good news that he is not being sent to an orphanage the boy has already tried to take his own life. Amir is eventually able to take Sohrab to America but the boy no longer speaks. During this time of silence, the World Trade Centre is bombed, the United States retaliates and Amir’s father-in-law returns to Afghanistan to take up a military position. Later Amir is able to connect with Sohrab through kite flying, using Hassan’s method to cut a kite. Amir suggests he runs with the kite for Sohrab who nods. Amir replies, “for you a thousand times over”, it’s the phrase that Hassan used in the past. The last line is, as is so often, the most poignant. “I ran.”
Now that you know more about falling action, it is time to finish writing a novel, aka your next masterpiece. Check out this free resource for more.