Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Dreary Deneoument (or, how to stop Falling Action from falling flat)

When I was finishing the first draft of my WIP, I was on a deadline (self-imposed)--I wanted to finish it by the end of the month. Thus, predictably, the ending got a bit... scrunched.

The second draft, I was trying to finish it by the end of that month so I could submit it to my writer's group for March. Thus (oh! a pattern!) the ending remained scrunched.

It wasn't horrible (well, it was: not burn-the-book horrible--just throw-it-across-the-room horrible), but it sure wasn't GOOD.

For draft #3, I'm starting at the end (yay! watch me learn!). I'm paying attention to what my group was confused by, what they thought made no sense, and I'm inserting a whole scene that explains a few things my characters were too busy running around to explain before.

And now I'm wondering if it's a bit anticlimactic.

I'm sending it to my group in a day or so to get their semi-professional opinions (one of my group members --Jenn Johansson--just got an agent, so now we're all semi-professional), but in the meantime, I'm looking at published books I love to see if they have any "let's talk about this" stuff--and how much--after the main conflict is over. Join me?

**Spoiler Warnings--I'm talking about the endings, here, folks. If you haven't read these books (and you want to!) stop reading now.***

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
 By page 364, the sword fight is over, the main bad guys are dead, Ani has her identity back, and most of the good guys are triumphant. Yay! They discuss the carnage.

By the end of page 369, Conrad has appeared with the treacherous lady-in-waiting in tow and she has been dispatched. Now we just have to wrap up the romance and the war.

On page 372, Ani attends the "war" counsel and has an animated discussion with the prime minister, who really, REALLY wants to go kill something already. No one dies, but this probably counts as conflict. Plus, I love her speech: "It would be suicide for Kildenree to war on Bayern and butchery for Bayern to attack Kildenree."

Between page 375 and 380, Ani and Geric work things out between them, sitting on the stairs in the kitchen. Love this part, too, because I love romance. Wrapping up the romantic subplot is a Good Thing.

Page 380-383 are probably the true denoument. The forest-born get their own 100-band, javelins, and shields; Ani meets some of her subjects as their future queen; and everything wraps up nicely.

Action falls for 19 pages
Lots of non-conflict stuff (sleeping, getting dressed, chatting casually)
In my opinion: I never got bored. Love it all.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
By the end of 295, the conflict is over, Quirrell/Voldemort is gone, and Harry has been saved. He wakes up in the hospital and has a chat with Dumbledore. Their chat continues while Dumbledore explains many of the perplexing mysteries of the book (through page 301).

301-304: Harry recaps things with his friends, still in the hospital.

304-307: End of term feast, with house championship announced--the conflict with the Slytherins wraps up nicely.

307-309: (The denoument) exam marks come in, they travel home.

Action falls for 14 pages.
Lots of chatting, resting, and eating of earwax-flavored jelly beans
In my opinion, even the conversation with Dumbledore didn't feel like an infodump because, let's face it, Dumbledore is an awesome character. I could listen to him talk all day.

Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer
(My copy of Twilight went home with a teenie bopper and never came back.)

The violence ends and the Volturi leave on page 579--but this book is really about Bella's choice between Edward and Jacob (such as it was--Jacob never had a chance) and that is finally settled when she figures out she loves them both, still chooses Edward, and leaves Jacob's broken self behind on page 604.

605-620: Bella cries in Edward's arms, they tell Alice she can plan the wedding, Bella decides not to sleep with Edward before the wedding. Depending on where you count the loose ends as tied up, all of this could be denouement--or only the last page, after Bella gets out the bucket of cold water

621-629: Jacob's epilogue. I'm not counting epilogues--this one is clearly a set-up for Breaking Dawn.

Action falls for 15 pages (from the breaking of Jacob's heart through the end of Bella's POV)
Bella mourns, sleeps, chats with her dad, Edward, etc, makes decisions about her established relationship with Edward.
I enjoy everything Stephenie writes, so I'm biased, but I think this went well for the story. I would have been upset if the sex issue was left hanging, so it was nice to have it resolved like that. Ditto on letting Alice plan the wedding. Bella needed time to mourn, too, so that time wasn't wasted, and she needed time to reassure Edward that he was really better for her. Not bored.

Elantris by Brandon Sanderson
The last bad guy dies on page 608. The good guys get healed, Sarene and Raoden get married (during which the groom ponders on the various magical systems in the world). The romantic subplot is all done by 612.

613-615: they bury those who died in the final battle. Love the final line: "Let it be said that after all else, Hrathen, gyorn of Shu-Dereth, was not our enemy. He was our savior." Lovely circular reference. This is the denoument.

Action falls for 7 pages (but the text is awfully tight--I have the small paperback version)
Enough doesn't happen that Raoden has time to get bored and ponder on things. There's a lot of getting dressed, assembling, and climbing out of carriages.
My opinion: well, of course I love it. This is Brandon Sanderson. He can make a grocery list interesting. Still, the business wasn't horrible, and helped wrap up the book very nicely. Sarene and Raoden had to get married--and what else is he supposed to think about? Also, nice set up for what will hopefully be another few books in this world.

Now let's compare my own:
Draft 1: (don't ask)
Draft 2: Action fell for 2.2 pages. Romance got resolved with a snap of my fingers, and the loose ends were largely ignored.
Draft 3: Action is now falling for 13 pages. During that time, my characters get in an argument about whether important information will be shared, and the love interest is able to demonstrate his, um, interest. Maybe I'll take another two pages and let the two talk to each other.


  • Endings don't have to end immediately--they can take a chapter or two after the last hurrah to wrap up loose ends and provide a sense of closure.
  • Falling action is a good place to resolve some of the more minor subplots (like romance, provided you're not writing a Romance)
  • Falling action doesn't mean no conflict--just that the conflict isn't going to get bigger than the climax. Ani stopped a war during falling action, Harry triumphed over Slytherine, and Bella made lots of tough life choices.
Have I missed anything? What do you do to make sure your falling action doesn't fall flat?


  1. So many good points about endings here! As far as what do I do to make sure my action doesn't fall flat--that really depends on each book. In my WIP, every time things seemed to be getting too slow, I threw another hazard in my characters' paths. (They needed it. They had a lot of growing to do.) I think I have...er, a chapter and a half or two chapters of falling action after the climax. Plus the epilogue, whenever I can figure out what needs to happen. (This is the problem with writing two books instead of one. The first book can't end on an everyone-is-happy-and-content note; there has to be some kind of action to make people WANT to read the next one. Pffft.)

    Anyway, this was a lovely post. Thank you for sharing it!

  2. Good analysis, Robin. I like some stuff after the action, especially if I love the characters and don't want the story to end. I like that resolution. That's part of why I was so disappointed with Mockingjay. So much horribleness happened that I needed a larger balance of resolution than Collins gave us.

  3. Laura--I know what you mean. I'm trying to write a book with "series potential" that still has an intact, complete storyline all its own. I think I'll take a paragraph or two to wrap up a few more dangling ends....

    Donna--Mockingjay's falling action went on forever, didn't it? (Maybe that's just me.) After the climax (with the bombs at the capital), Katnis still fired the final shot (loved that part), voted to inflict on others what she found intolerable when she had to do it herself, chose her man, moved back to a broken home, waited a few years, and then had two children. It wasn't a happy resolution, but I couldn't really think of a way to fix it--what would have brought Katnis the peace she deserved?

  4. One thing I found interesting about the Harry Potter series, was that in the early books, only half or less of the outstanding questions were answered in the ending book summary.

    This was also true of a the only TV show written like a book Babylon 5. That shows writer/producer said that of the threads he introduced in a given season, he would make sure that he only answered half of them, and leave the rest to be answered in future seasons.

    This is something that I have to think about for my WIP because I currently will need about 9 books to completely tell my story. Which is why I spent so much time planning my story before I began writing it, determining what threads would be addressed in which book.

    So as I think about this I am left with a question, is the end of the book the best or only place to do this, or is it okay to do it thought the book if it works in the story?

    What are your thoughts?

  5. Oh, throughout the book works wonderfully. If you haven't read Elantris yet, run, don't walk to your local bookstore or library and get a copy! The falling action there is so short because they solve the main mystery before the main conflict is over. (They, in fact, HAVE to have the mystery solved in order to triumph.) Especially with epic fantasy, I think, you need to sprinkle the answers throughout or you'll need half the book to be falling action! :)

  6. Excellent because that is how my things are working best in the book my wife and I are writing.

  7. Robin, I did not write my post reviewing Elantris after reading this post. =D I'd prepared that before I left for Ireland to be posted yesterday in case I didn't have time or Internet access.

    And you're right--Sanderson rocks.