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What is Falling Action in Literature?

    what is falling action in literature

    When teaching plot, the rising action and climax usually get all the credit, right? But that’s exactly why it’s important to teach our students the importance of other plot elements, like falling action. The truth is, despite being often understated or overlooked, falling action plays a pivotal role in a narrative. Let’s dig in deeper to understand why that is, shall we? (We shall.)

    Falling Action Definition

    In narrative writing, falling action refers to the part of the story that occurs after the climax and before the resolution. Falling action is usually where all the tensions built up during the rising action start to subside. It’s where conflicts that come to a head in the climax are resolved and loose ends tied up.

    However, that’s not to say it’s always smooth sailing until the conclusion. Sometimes, the falling action involves characters facing the consequences of their actions, reflecting on their journeys, and undergoing further character development. While the climax may represent the peak of tension and drama in a story, the falling action prevents a jarring ending. Rather than an abrupt end, falling action helps gradually release tension while working toward a resolution before the story *officially* comes to a close.

    Falling Action Pronunciation

    Falling action is a phrase comprised of two two-syllable words and is pronounced as: Fall-ing ak-shun

    Plot and Falling Action: Where It All Goes Down

    You can’t have a good story (or a complete one, for that matter) without a plot. It’s basically the roadmap of a narrative—the sequence of events that drive a story forward. It provides a story with structure and purpose, captivating readers with challenges, rising tensions, conflict, and, ultimately, resolutions. But here’s the thing—you can’t get from point A (the start) to point B (the end) without the help of falling action.

    Let’s take a look at how it all comes together by recapping the major elements of the classic narrative plot structure:

    • It all starts with the exposition, which establishes the context of the story through the introduction of vital settings, characters, and background information.
    • Up next? The inciting incident, the event that sets the main conflict of the story in motion and prompts the protagonist to embark on some sort of journey.
    • Then comes the rising action, the point of the story where tensions and suspense are building as the protagonist faces obstacles, challenges, and complications.
    • Everything comes to a head with the climax, where the story’s conflict finally reaches its peak, often triggering some sort of significant realization, confrontation, or decision.
    • Things start to wind down during the falling action, where consequences of the climax unfold as the story moves toward a resolution of conflict.
    • And, finally, we reach the resolution (also called the dénouement), where the characters must face the aftermath of all the action, drama, and decisions up to this point, providing closure at last! (Psst… Despite what fairy tales have taught us, it’s not always a happy ending.)

    While the falling action may not feel as exciting as the rising action or climax, it plays a critical role in the overall plot. Consider it the bridge that connects the chaos of the climactic moment to the sense of closure that comes with the story’s end.

    Plot twist: Some stories intentionally leave out the falling action to leave the reader with thought-provoking loose ends and suspenseful cliffhangers.

    Falling Action vs. Dénouement: What’s the Difference?

    While these two terms are heavily intertwined (and often confused with one another), they refer to two different aspects of plot. Both occur toward the end of a narrative arc, and both lead a reader toward a sense of closure. However, falling action is all about easing the tensions (and facing the consequences) brought about by the rising action and climax. Falling action leads directly to the resolution, but it’s not necessarily the end end of the story.

    That, my friend, would be dénouement. It’s the final part of the plot, coming after the resolution. This is where the outcome of the story is fully revealed, providing a sense of closure. It’s in these final moments that an author may point to a deeper understanding of the story’s themes and characters, closing out the narrative arc while leaving a lasting impact on the reader.

    What is the Purpose of Falling Action in a Story?

    Have you ever read a story that feels unfinished—and not in the cool, cliffhanger way? You see, without falling action to follow a story’s climax and lead to the resolution, the ending could feel abrupt, rushed, or simply inadequate.

    One of the main purposes of falling action is to unravel the consequences of the climax rather than simply, well, ending. Falling action allows readers to witness the aftermath of pivotal events, offering insight into the impending resolution. Therefore, it helps provide a sense of closure to the story’s main conflict(s) as the narrative arc comes to a close. In some ways, the falling action helps ensure a satisfying conclusion by guiding readers toward a sense of resolution.

    In addition to providing a sense of closure, falling action can also play an important role in character development, by providing an opportunity for characters to reflect on and reconcile with the consequences of their actions. #Growth!

    How to Identify Falling Action in a Story

    The more complicated the plot, the harder it can be to identify specific narrative components—especially falling action. However, there are some key elements and patterns that can help you pinpoint a story’s falling action::

    • Decreasing Tension: Look for a gradual decrease in the intensity of conflicts and tensions following the climax.
    • Dialogue and Action: Analyze dialogue and actions, looking for signs that indicate the story is winding down rather than building up.
    • Shift in Focus: Recognize a shift in focus from action-driven events to reflective moments that start to wrap up the story (and all its drama).
    • Character Reflection: Pay attention to instances of characters reflecting on the climactic events, and their roles in them.
    • Character Growth: Keep an eye out for signs of character growth or change as a result of the climax and its aftermath—this may come after (or be revealed during) character reflection.
    • Narrative Momentum: Notice a slowdown in the pacing as the story moves towards its conclusion and a sense of closure (hello, dénouement).
    • Transition to Resolution: Note instances where the narrative is transitioning from the climax toward the story’s ultimate resolution. (That bridge = falling action. )

    Tips for Teaching Falling Action

    • Teach Plot Structure: Students will have an easier time understanding what falling action is and how it impacts a story if you teach the concept in the broader context of storytelling.
    • Use Graphic Organizers: Visual aids such as story maps or plot diagrams can help students visualize how a plot unfolds, including what leads to (and follows) the falling action.
    • Compare Texts: Have students analyze multiple texts to identify, compare, and contrast the falling action in various plots. See if students notice any patterns developed across different genres, styles, and authors.
    • Analyze Short Stories: Choose high-interest short stories with well-defined falling action to facilitate focused analysis without overwhelming students with lengthy narratives.
    • Think Beyond Literature: Engage students in an exploration of falling action by diving into examples of falling action from popular films, TV shows, or video games. This will help illustrate the concept’s relevance beyond traditional literature.
    • Encourage Real-Life Connections: Draw parallels between falling action in literature and real-life events, highlighting how conflicts lead to resolutions in various contexts.
    • Facilitate Classroom Discussion: Give students a chance to share their thoughts and interpretations of falling action and its impact on narrative structure, fostering a collaborative analysis experience.
    • Incorporate Visual Displays: Engage students in hands-on activities such as storyboarding, where they visually depict the sequence of falling action within a narrative.
    • Change the Ending: Play out different scenarios of falling action for a particular story, discussing how different falling actions would lead to different outcomes and conclusions.

    Examples of Falling Action in Literature

    1. Falling Action in The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

    With a story as rich as The Great Gatsby, it’s no surprise that there are multiple elements to the narrative’s falling action. The falling action is triggered by the story’s climax and the events that unfold in the wake of Myrtle’s death. These events lead to the moment when Gatsby’s dream of repeating the past (Errr, I mean, of winning Daisy’s love) is shattered when Daisy ultimately chooses Tom (and their fake yet lavish life).

    Therefore, the falling action involves the aftermath of this climax, including Gatsby’s eventual demise (RIP). The story’s falling action unpacks the repercussions of Gatsby’s death, the revelation of his true background and motivations, the consequences of the character’s actions, and the unraveling of various illusions. Most prominently, as the story approaches its final ah-ha moment, Nick Carraway reflects on his (rather wild) summer in New York.  As Nick processes all that happened, he comes to terms with his disgust for and the disillusionment of the American Dream.

    Overall, the falling action drives the reader toward closure, just as Nick is coming to terms with it as well. Through Nick’s reflections, Fitzgerald highlights further insight into the overarching themes of his novel.

    2. Falling Action in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

    Once Scrooge witnesses a reality where, essentially, no one cares if he dies, he finally realizes the impact of his grouchy and greedy ways on those around him. After begging the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come for another chance (and swearing to be a better man), he begins his journey of self-reflection and change. This revelation prompts a profound change in Scrooge’s character, triggering the falling action.

    The story’s falling action follows Scrooge as he embarks on his journey of redemption. In a turn of events, he embraces the Christmas spirit with open arms (to everyone’s surprise, may I add.) The once dismissive and stingy Scrooge begins showcasing kindness and generosity to those he previously turned away and scoffed at, including his nephew and Bob Cratchit. As Scrooge continues to make amends for his past behavior, the falling action leads to the resolution of the conflicts and struggles introduced earlier in the narrative.

    Ultimately, Scrooge’s redemption story draws readers toward a sense of closure and joy, underscoring Dickens’ underlying message of the transformative power of compassion, generosity, and forgiveness. Oh — and the magic in the spirit of Christmas, of course!

    Check out my complete novel study for A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

    Additional Resources for Teaching Plot Structure and Falling Action

    Keep students organized with my free editable plot diagram template.

    Dive into the plots of engaging short stories using done-for-you resources, like A Sound of Thunder short story analysis and The Yellow Wallpaper short story analysis.

    Read this post for more tips on teaching plot using short stories.

    Help your students understand falling action with the following videos:

    • Watch (and unpack) the falling action of Disney’s The Lion King
    • An interesting discussion around real thoughts on real books and their falling action

    Take a closer look at plot, including falling action, using Ray Bradbury’s The Veldt with this engaging video by Shmoop.

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