Falling action - 5-act play - literature

5-Act Play Structure: Falling Action

Jennifer Mendez Writer's Resources

Overview

If you’ve been following the 5-Act Play Series, then you know it’s almost coming to a close. This is the fourth act, falling action, and next week is our final installment. But that doesn’t mean things are slowing down, at least not entirely. While the play should be wrapping up, it doesn’t mean it has to be boring. On the contrary, it should be attention grabbing all the same, setting the stage for the resolution in the next act.

What Is Falling Action?

Falling action is what occurs right after the climax, and sets the tone for the resolution to come. Assuming the hero wins in your story, the climax should be the turning point when the villain’s plans fail, and falling action is when they come to a close. A good way to describe it is when the criminal is in handcuffs, and driven away in a police car. The epic battle between the good guys and the bad has already come to a close, and the good guys have won. However, the good guys haven’t finished talking and wrapping the story up yet (resolution).

Why Is It Important?

The reason you should care about falling action is because this is the moment when any unresolved story lines and mysteries are cleared up. Unknown details and twists are made clear. It is basically a matter of transitioning between the adrenaline pumping climax, and the calm and quiet resolution. If there was no transition, the pacing would seem unrealistic, and distracting.

Falling Action Tips

It is easy to confuse falling action and resolution, because most people combine the two, or make falling action so short, that they willingly choose to combine it with resolution. To avoid this, it helps if you consider everything that made up your story that hasn’t already been resolved. Perhaps there’s a side story you left off unfinished. Maybe it’s a supporting character that hasn’t been seen since he escaped a tough situation. Whatever the case, falling action is when it is all explained.

Some rules are meant to be broken. Too many times, dialogue is relied upon for this act, to lay things out and spell them out for the audience. Referring back to the ” show, don’t tell” method, you could also play some appropriate music, while the actors reappear. For instance, if a side character was covered in rubble after a falling building, you could show him finding his way out, alive and scrapped up, while music plays. From there, take the next act to the resolution, with the major characters actually talking. All unresolved things should be handled before the conclusion (denouement).

Summary

Falling action may seem pretty boring, and to be honest, it is. It pales in comparison to the climax, and it’s placed right after it, too. However, this is not only a point of transition, it is the point when the audience starts to feel a heart-warming sensation. Assuming your story captivates enough, it should go from excitement over the climax, to a heart-warming relief during falling action. Seeing this take effect appropriately is rewarding, and justifies your effort.

Next up in the breakdown of a 5 act play:

Denouement (How to end the story)