The Art of Narrative, Part Four: Climax and Falling Action

It’s been a long intermission, but…welcome back to the Art of Narrative! Today we’ll continue our series of posts dedicated to the exploration of narrative craft.

Before discussing the next stages—climax and falling action—I’d like to briefly revisit the parts covered so far. First was the narrative arc itself, as well as the four main types of point of view—first person, second person, third person limited, and third person omniscient. (Click here to read about point of view types.) Next we discussed exposition, which included setting, character details, and mood. (Read about exposition here.) After that followed a segment on the three types of conflict—man against man, man against nature, and man against self—and the secondary conflicts that occur in the rising action stage (read more on conflict and rising action here).

So now that we’ve met the scene and the characters, in addition to the issues our protagonist must face as the stakes are raised—where does all this action inevitably lead?

To the climax, of course! It is the moment the reader anticipated for the entire narrative, the actual peak of the reading adventure where our protagonist’s conflict culminates and he or she is forced to face the issue head on. Good or bad, the climax serves as a true turning point for the story—and for this reason it becomes the most dramatic piece of the journey. Here the story brims with all the tension, intensity, and action necessary for the protagonist to find a solution.

In some cases, an author may choose the route of an anti-climax, providing a seemingly trivial solution to a significant conflict. This choice is sometimes employed to add humor to the narrative, but in other situations might be the result of poor planning (or the discovery that the original solution no longer works for the story). Readers often have mixed feelings on the employment of the anti-climax, which may or may not lead into the next stage of the narrative arc: falling action.

The falling action stage represents the series of events that will help the protagonist address the climax aftermath. In short, it is a slow unraveling of the conflict. In the case of an anti-climax, this stage might be missing entirely or may not wrap the story up as coherently as the reader might hope.

Either way, the falling action stage ultimately leads the narrative to its resolution. Stay tuned for the final installment of the Art of Narrative series, when we’ll explore this more fully.

In the meantime, what are your thoughts on pieces that intentionally use an anti-climax? In stories that follow the traditional narrative path, do you prefer a quick tie-up in the falling action, or a more extended run before the resolution of the tale? Please share your thoughts below!

And of course, happy reading! 🙂

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About Eva Rieder

Eva Rieder is a speculative and contemporary/mainstream fiction author. By day, she masquerades as a high school Math and English teacher. Though she adores teaching and her students very much, when Eva returns home she reglues her fingertips to the keyboard to pursue her alter ego’s destiny. She currently lives and writes in Northern California with her two keyboard-savvy cats. View all posts by Eva Rieder

2 responses to “The Art of Narrative, Part Four: Climax and Falling Action

  • Katherine Checkley

    Anit-climax…hmmm…the end of The Sopranos comes to mind 🙂 I’m not too big on it, unless I know for a fact I wouldn’t like a particular solution. I sometimes find those open-ended, leave it to the characters endings a bit lame. I’m talking about the ones that never fully get resolved….say a married couple is on the brink of divorce, and they have big blow outs, and throughout the story they just agonize over whether or not to get back together…and in the end their in a coffee shop together, and the vibe goes something like this: maybe we’ll work it out, who knows. In the meantime, we’ll enjoy this moment. Boom. The end. I don’t know…sometimes I’d just rather a decision! Good post. It’s always great to go back and re-visit the basics! It’s what stories are made of, after all!

    • Eva Rieder

      I agree with your dislike. I always want it to go one way or the other; I read (and watch movies) to escape and watch another world, and when I’m left hanging—to think about it—I get frustrated. Take me on the full story, please! 🙂 Thanks for following the series and commenting, Katherine!

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