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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Endings - specifically "falling action" - how important is it?

Author Topic: Endings - specifically "falling action" - how important is it?
Member # 5137

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I've got a question about endings. In many of the books on writing I have read, there is this concept of "falling action" - basically the slow wrap-up of the story after the climax has been reached.

I have a story where the climax happens, and the story ends a sentence later. How much of a problem is this? It's a short story (5k or so) - but how challenging is this? I think this is a problem of mine in general, as I have another story where many critiques pointed out that the ending happened too quickly.

I teeter. I don't know about writing all that wrap-up stuff for this particular story because the climax is being built for a long while, and because the intent of the one post-climax line is to make it clear to the reader that this exact scenario may happen again (due to the character's choices/actions.)

Thoughts on endings? Feel free to go beyond what I'm asking - it's more just a subject I want to muse about for a bit. Thanks for coming along for the ride.

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Member # 5952

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Is this a story or a book?

There's an old thread about this here and here that I thought might help you.

A better question is, is the ending satisfying? Maybe send it out to a few readers and get their response.

There was talk of having a "last 13 lines" posting at some point... maybe there's still interest?

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Member # 7948

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I think it depends on the climax and what built up to it.

I've read books that I felt ended much too quickly, but I think my complaint was that the build up felt too extended. I got so invested in the journey that the sudden quick achievement felt cheap.

We did this and this and this and the end.

Sometimes the denouement is the most important part. It isn't really a wrap up of the characters. It should be the proper ending of the story. For example, say your climax is a battle for the throne. The denouement should be the coronation of the winner and execution of the loser. And we should care enough about those characters to celebrate the win or mourn the loss.

My 2 cents

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Member # 2651

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The "falling action" needs to be in proportion to the size and scale of the story you're telling. Look at Lord of the Rings - there's a fair chunk of book after the main climax (the destruction of Sauron), and even after the coda climax (the defeat of Saruman). But that's come after 1800-odd pages, so people are invested enough to want to know something of "what happens next".

You're talking about a 5000-word story, and it's certainly possible to get away with finishing right on the climax, so long as you are giving the climax itself enough mass compared to the rest of the story. If you have 200 words of climax and no coda, you probably have an unbalanced story. if yuor climax is 1000 or 1500 words of that 5000-word story, then it probably serves as the balance and ending in its own right.

Advice is very useful, but it's just that; advice. What you need to do is not follow it (or even rules) slavishly, but understand why that advice/those rules work in most cases, what they are doing for your story. Then you can decide for your particular instance how they should be handled, and whetehr o rnot you can ignore the advice and break the rules. Writers break rules all the time. The good writers are the ones who know why they are doing it and make it work for their story.

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Member # 1646

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Endings need to be satisfying. Falling action is often necessary to make an ending satisfying, but it is not always necessary. The real questions you have to ask yourself are:

1. Did you fulfill the implicit promise you made in the opening?

2. Did you resolve all the plots and subplots?

3. Did you answer all the story questions?

4. Did you leave the reader with a sense of closure about the characters and events? (A wise reader critique can help you here.)

I don't think the length of the work matters, although I would agree that *generally speaking*, a novel can handle a lot more falling action than a short story. In a novel, we've spent so much time with the characters and events that sometimes just dropping us off at the climax leaves us with an empty feeling inside, even if all the plot points where technically answered. I just finished reading "A is for Alibi" and felt this way. We get to the moment we'd been building towards since the first paragraph and then boom! It's over. There's about a paragraph of wrap up and I was left going....b-b-but what?

On the other hand, I felt that the falling action in "Lord of the Rings" was way too long, despite the number of pages we had spent with the characters. There seems to be two very different opinions on how well done that was but I'm in the way too long camp.

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Doc Brown
Member # 1118

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The shorter the story the faster the action must fall. In short-short sotries the action usually falls in the last sentence.

I expect that your 5,000 word short story with one sentence after the climax is probably fine.

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Member # 5682

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The traditions of genres may affect the answer. In a whodunit, for example, the writer might want to tie up any loose ends (clues) as a way of informing the reader what he/she foolishly missed.

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Robert Nowall
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I'm inclined to think the wrapup of a story should be as brief as possible---for a short story, a line or two; something longer, a few paragraphs; a lengthy novel, a few pages.

On The Lord of the Rings and its seemingly-long-drawn-out wrapup---strictly speaking, it doesn't end right after the Ring goes into the fire, because the story doesn't end there. Everybody goes home, and Frodo (and we the reader) learn that "the Shire has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them." And once we reach that conclusion the story wraps up in three pages. (Excluding the appendices.)

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