The falling action is a major part of all novels, short stories, and long poems. It is preceded by the exposition and rising action. It’s present in a story to wind down the tension built up in the climax and lead the reader into the resolution. Sometimes, a new conflict is introduced in the falling action of a work of literature. Writers as different as Edgar Allan Poe and John Green feature falling action in their stories.
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Definition and Explanation of Falling Action
A simple definition of the falling action is that it is one part of the structure of a story and overall plot. It comes to have the moment of peak tension or climax of a story. The tension from that central event is winding down and the characters in the story have to come to terms with what’s happened, as does the reader.
The falling action is, despite its placement after the climax, a very important part of a story’s structure. It helps move the central events of the story towards the resolution, or the last part of a story’s plot structure. That being said, not every story has a falling action and it’s often hard to define or pick out of a story’s various elements.
Freytag’s Pyramid is a commonly used resource to structure a story or help students understand the various elements that make up stories. The pyramid, or plot diagram, starts with a flat line along the far left side. It’s here that the “exposition” is marked. As the pyramid rises to its point (the climax) readers can find the rising action.
The falling action is on the other side of the pyramid, followed by the resolution and sometimes the dénouement. Depending on the version of the pyramid one is looking at, the story structure elements may or may not be the same length. But, in other versions that better represent a story’s generalized structure, the rising action is usually the longest line of the pyramid, creating one slanted, longer side. It should also be noted that Freytag’s pyramid doesn’t work for every story.
Examples of Falling Action in Literature
“The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe
“The Cask of Amontillado” is one of Poe’s best-known stories. It follows Montresor and Fortunato when the latter is invited into the former’s vault for a wine tasting. It’s there that he gets drunk and Montresor walls him up in the cellar. This is the climax of the story. It is followed by Fortunato regaining consciousness and struggling to get out.
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Lord of the Rings, as a long and complex trilogy of novels, has an equally interesting falling action. After Frodo destroys the ring and Sauron is defeated, the falling action begins. A series of events follow, many of which are as interesting and exciting as the climax. This helps lead the story to its resolution.
Discover J.R.R. Tolkien’s poems.
“The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant
Guy de Maupassant’s famous short story “The necklace” is well-loved by readers around the world. It follows Mathilda Loisel and her husband who are invited to a ball. Mathilda, desperate to impress and not look out of place, borrows a beautiful necklace from her wealthy friend. She loses the necklace during the night and she and her husband buy a replacement that they spend years working to pay off.
This is the section of the story that can be called the falling action. The resolution takes place when it’s revealed that the necklace was actually a piece of costume jewelry and they’ve destroyed their lives for no reason.
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
Romeo and Juliet’s falling action is an easy one to stop. It occurs after the death of Tybalt and includes the deaths of the two main character’s and the family’s agreement to stop feuding among themselves. It’s at this point that readers become aware that it took the deaths of two young people to end this pointless, long-lasting argument. Here is a quote from the end of Act V, Scene 3 during the falling action:
A glooming peace this morning with it brings.
The sun for sorrow will not show his head.
Go hence to have more talk of these sad things.
Some shall be pardoned, and some punishèd.
For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.
Read William Shakespeare’s poems.
“The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell
“The Most Dangerous Game” is another commonly read short story. It describes a new York hunter who falls of his yacht and ends up on an isolated island. There, he’s hunted as “the most dangerous game,” by Zaroff, a Russian aristocrat. The falling action begins after the main character, Rainsford, jumps off the cliff, trying to escape from the island. He lands in the water and has to swim back to Zaroff’s home where he challenges Zaroff to a fight and prevails.
Falling Action or Dénouement
While the falling action and dénouement seem similar, they aren’t the same parts of a story. The dénouement is the process of bringing a story to its resolution. It’s where the various plot points finally come together, often described as tying up loose ends. The outcome of the story is hinted at in this section, such as what the future holds for one or more characters. They occur after the resolution while the falling action occurs before the resolution. They can be as short as “they lived happily ever after.”
Why Do Writers Use Falling Action?
Writers use falling actions in order to bring about the feeling of relief that should come after the climax. It’s impossible to continue a novel or short story at peak tension forever. Eventually, the story has to start its descent towards a conclusion. Without the falling action, the reader would be left unsatisfied and in the dark in regard to what happened to the characters, they’ve hopefully come to care about throughout the exposition, rising action, and climax. The falling action should be a rewarding part of the story that readers look forward to as much as they do the climax.
It is important because it provides a transitionary period between the climax of the story and the resolution. It’s within the falling action that much of the reader’s questions are going to be answered.
The parts of a story are the exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and conclusion. Sometimes, a denouement is separated and also included. while not all stories follow this pattern, many of them do.
Related Literary Devices
- Conflict: a plot device used by writers when two opposing sides come up against each other.
- Climax: the point at which the main character is forced to contend with the central conflict of the story.
- Foreshadowing: refers to the hints a writer gives a reader about what’s going to happen next. It’s a common literary device that’s used every day.
- Cliffhanger: a narrative device that’s used to end a story abruptly before an action or segment the plot is concluded.
- Flashback: a plot device in a book, film, story, or poem in which the readers learn about the past.
- Watch: What is the falling action of a story?
- Read: Freytag’s Pyramid
- Read: How to Write Falling Action