How to Not Ruin Your Novel’s Falling Action
Updated: Jun 21, 2020
Alrighty then. We’re officially there.
Officially ready to close our discussion on how to use falling action to deal with those pesky remaining questions your story has.
As we’ve already discussed, there are almost always a few remaining questions that weren’t dealt with before the falling action. That’s just the name of the game when:
The beginning of a story is designed to introduce and entice.
The rising action of a story is designed to engage and entice.
The climax is designed to feature the conflict at its absolute most dramatic.
Each one offers a lot of room for questions to build. In fact, each one is designed to introduce questions, with only so much resolution allowed.
The falling action, meanwhile, is designed to make sure that the majority of those questions are addressed.
Maybe not resolved. But definitely addressed.
It’s extremely important to let your readers know that they haven’t read all that way for nothing. That you’re not going to leave them wondering whether you just forgot about certain details along the way…
That you’re not some sadist who wants to make them suffer, leaving them to forever wonder about particular points.
Work hard not to do that. At the same time, don't get carried away in your effort to not be sadistic.
Obsessing over loose ends rarely points to a well-written ending.
Innovative Editing is a big advocate of falling action scenes that address what needs to be addressed. By the time this segment is over, there should probably be no plot holes left uncovered. (And that 100% applies to a story’s ending.)
But there’s a big difference between addressing the issues your characters faced and resolving them. Real life leaves us with plenty of unanswered questions. So tying up our stories too neatly can come across as unbelievable and even cheesy.
In other words, sometimes you're going to want to explain in detail. And sometimes, all you have to do is mention that some issues are just going to have to wait.
To go back to the examples we gave in Tuesday’s Definition, the above-referenced "issues" could revolve around:
Fighting to free the world or realm of Azynx from evil overlords – with ultimate victory achieved by the end of the climatic moment
Dealing with an unfulfilling relationship, where the main character finally decides to leave
Trying to get the best of someone who has previously gotten the best of the protagonist… only to face her and fail.
Those scenarios can easily introduce unresolved questions such as (respectively): How’s your hero going to help heal the war-torn land? What’s newly single existence going to look like? Is there some way to still live life despite such crushing defeat?
It might sound as if you’d need an entire sequel to supplying the appropriate answers. And, who knows. Maybe you do.
But these questions can be and even should be addressed by simply having the protagonist think about them. Like this:
Exsin woke up the next morning exhausted, not just because of the battle wounds he’d sustained but because he knew the real work had just begun. It would take years to help people see they were free. Years that would have to be dealt with along the way. For now though, he had an announcement to make.
Driving away in her car, Jenny shook her head. How she'd dealt with his selfishness for so long was beyond her now that the distance between them was steadily growing. Besides heading home to Mom and Dad, she wasn’t sure where life would take her now that she was single. But she was confident she’d figure it out.
After two full weeks of staring blankly at his apartment wall, Tanner finally forced himself to call his brother and admit that he’d been wrong to chase Lori halfway around the world. That conversation was hard, as well he supposed it should be, though it ended well enough after Bob said they’d figure things out.
That’s the gist of it. Once you grasp that gist, you're officially prepared to finish writing your falling action… and then ready to start your ending.