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Falling Action of a Story: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 What Is Falling Action?
  • 0:31 Elements of Plot
  • 2:04 Why Falling Action Is…
  • 4:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ann Casano

Ann has taught university level Film classes and has a Master's Degree in Cinema Studies.

Stories don't just end at their high point. In this lesson, we will take a look at the falling action, the part of the plot that comes after the big climax.

What Is Falling Action?

The story's climax has occurred. The hero has reached his goal, whatever his goal may have been. He climbed the mountain; he won the heart of the girl of his dreams; he won the big game; or he found the buried treasure.

But the story isn't over yet. Now, the movie you've been watching for two hours, or the book you've spent your summer vacation reading, comes to the part of the story known as the falling action. The falling action occurs right after the climax. It is what happens after the main problem of the story has been solved.

The Elements of Plot

Stories have been told for thousands of years, around the campfires of the Native Americans to the $100 million blockbuster films of today. And, despite how the way we tell stories has dramatically changed, the actual structure of plot - the sequence of events that comprise a story - has not really changed at all.

In the 1800s, a German dramatist by the name of Gustav Freytag took a look at the structure of the plays of William Shakespeare and many ancient Greek tales. He figured out that there were five different parts of a plot. We know his work today as Freytag's Analysis.

Of course, plots can vary. But this is more or less how most plots develop:

  1. Exposition - This is the introduction part of the plot. The exposition provides us with any background information about the characters or the events that the audience may need to comprehend the story.
  2. Rising action - The rising action is the part of the plot where the hero fights any obstacles and conflicts that stand in the way of reaching his goal. These are all the events that lead up to the climax.
  3. Climax - This is the apex of the narrative, where the 'battle' will take place. All of the drama and conflict has led to this point where we will determine if the hero will succeed or fail.
  4. Falling action - This is what occurs right after the climax. What are the direct effects of the climax?
  5. Resolution/Denouement - Sometimes rising action and resolution mix together in a plot. The resolution is simply tying up any loose ends that may be left in the story.

Why Falling Action Is so Important

Okay, now that we know all the parts of the plot, why is falling action so vital in storytelling? Think about how you would feel if the story simply ended directly after the climax, at the height of the action. Wouldn't you wonder what happened next? If we didn't get a chance to see the fruits of the hero's labor, then we would feel incomplete.

The falling action gives us satisfaction that the guy you've been rooting for, been invested in, is going to get his reward. It's not enough to see Rocky finally beat Apollo Creed in Rocky II after 15 grueling rounds of battle. We also want to see the beaten and battered Rocky hoist the championship belt up in the air and tell his wife, who is watching at home, 'Yo Adrian, I did it!'

Falling Action Examples

First, let's look at Star Wars (1977, George Lucas). The climax of this story is when Luke Skywalker and the rebels find a vulnerable section in Darth Vader's Death Star. After many failed attempts, it's up to Luke to destroy the space ship. Vader nearly shoots up Luke's ship, but he is saved when Han Solo is able to get a good shot at Vader. Luke uses the force and, against all odds, destroys the Death Star just in time to save the rebels.

But of course, the story can't end there. We have to see Luke and Han return to the rebel team and receive congratulations for their heroic efforts. The falling action of the plot occurs when the heroes are rewarded by Princess Leia and given medals for saving the day.

For our next example, let's take a look at The Godfather (1972, Francis Ford Coppola). The climax of this story is when Michael's hit men, during his nephew's baptism, kill all of his enemies. One by one, as we intercut between Michael serving as godfather to his sister Connie's son, the rival New York Dons and Moe Greene from Vegas are violently killed. Then one of Michael's captains executes one of his own men who had betrayed him. Connie's husband, Carlo, is also killed for his involvement in Michael's brother's death.

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