Fight Scene Structure Part 4: Falling Action

Click here to read Part 1: Inciting Incident
Click here to read Part 2: Rising Action
Click here to read Part 3: The Climax

The falling action of a fight includes anything that happens as a result of the climax, leading to the actual end of the fight. Some fights will have no falling action at all:

1. Megan drew her service weapon and blasted a round into the thug’s skull. (climax) He dropped to the cold concrete. (falling action)

Some fights will have lots of falling action:

2. Megan’s arm snaked around the thug’s throat. She locked her hand in her opposite bicep and squeezed. The man croaked as the pressure began to strangle him. (climax) Despite his thrashing, Megan held tight, teeth gritted, thoughts on nothing but ending this battle. The man tried to twist out of her grip, but Megan’s training held, and she kept control of him. His struggles became weaker, and he made a last ditch effort to jab his fingers into her eyes. Megan ducked her head against his back. Fingernails scraped harmlessly along her skull. Finally, the thug’s knees buckled. His frantic movements slowed, then ceased. His weight became limp and heavy. Megan lowered the unconscious body to the cold concrete. (falling action)

3. Megan’s limbs snapped to her sides, held prone by some invisible force. (climax) The thug grinned. “Soon the NYPD will know better than to battle with the servants of the underworld.”
“Who are you?” Megan asked.
“We are the chosen ones of Grelgathor the Shadow King. Long ago …”

How much falling action you need will depend on what happens in your climax. If the climax includes a serious or lethal injury, you will have very little falling action. If a character is only maimed, injured, or trapped but can still attempt to fight, you can wind the fight down, as in example two, or include some dialogue, as in example three.

When writing a fight that winds down, like example two, the injured character should slowly become less and less effective. The falling action should never escalate higher than the rising action. For example, if the highest point in the rising action was a kick to the face, then the falling action should not suddenly introduce knives or guns. (If you think you’ve reached your climax and find yourself still escalating, surprise! You haven’t actually reached the climax yet.) Generally speaking, falling action should work its way back down the ladder of escalation you climbed during the rising action. Attacks should grow weaker, clumsier, and less dangerous.

However, falling action allows some leeway. You don’t have to de-escalate exactly in order. The injured character can try a punch, then a kick, then another punch, then a sloppy eye gouge before finally succumbing. The only two rules to follow are to make sure nothing happens in the falling action that is more dramatic than the climax, and that the falling action doesn’t introduce weapons that weren’t present in the rising action (as this is a form of escalation).

When writing dialogue in the falling action, make sure the injured character would reasonably be able to speak. In example two, the thug is being strangled, so he shouldn’t speak. If a character is stabbed in a lung, they shouldn’t speak. If they’re injured in a way that would reasonably overwhelm their ability to think straight (severe head blow, missing limb, etc.), they shouldn’t speak.

Whatever kind of scene you write, make sure that your falling action doesn’t take longer than is reasonable given your climax. If a character had a leg chopped off, you don’t have much time for dialogue before he bleeds out. However, if a character is simply restrained (see Megan in example 3), you have a lot more time for falling action to occur.

One final rule: Falling action should never take longer than the rising action and climax. Know when enough is enough, and close the fight before it overstays its welcome.

Next Time: Resolution (Ending the Fight Scene Gracefully!)


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