Like waves rising and falling on the beach, rising and falling happen throughout the novel.
The interplay between the two give the novel its pacing and rhythm.
Think of any chase scene you’ve seen in a movie. It’s always followed by a more relaxed scene where the characters can catch a breath and think about their next move..if only for a moment.
What Goes Up Must Come Down
A work of fiction is like a boat heading for a waterfall.
When the reader gets into the boat the river is nothing more than a slowly meandering stream.
This is where he is getting familiar with the setting and being introduced to the characters. Slowly, as sub-plots feed into the stream like tributaries, the river grows in size and power. The story has taken off in earnest.
This is the rising action.
Soon, there are rapids increasing in strength and the reader realizes he is heading for a waterfall.
This is the climax of the story.
Like the character in the boat focusing on the inevitable waterfall, everything in the story moves the reader toward the climax. He can’t avoid it.
But what happens after the reader’s boat goes over the falls and comes to the continuing river below?
This is the falling action.
Time To Pick Up The Pieces
When the action falls at the end of the novel it is referred to as the dénouement.
This is the part in the plot where the characters (and the reader) assess what has happened, who they’ve become in the light of what has happened.
While the focus and dramatic thrust of the novel is the climax, the meaning of the novel is wrapped up in the falling action afterward.
It is a very important part of the novel.
Think of it as the feeling you get when coming home from vacation. You are contended and rested. You’ve seen new things and had new experiences. You may even be a completely different person. But now you are ready to go home.
This is the time when all the novel’s themes are tied up. All the questions are answered. All the emotions are resolved. This is not where the main character discovers the true identity of his father but what he does with that information.
The Secret To Falling Action Is…
… having just enough.
Too much and the reader gets bored. Too little and the reader feels cheated.
If the main character decides to leave the priesthood after discovering his father was a mass murderer that is all we need to know.
If you want to tell that story that is…well, a different story.
But if you don’t tell us what the main character decided to do the reader will feel as if something is missing.
There is no emotional resolution and, like walking around with a pebble in your shoe, it just doesn’t feel right.