To end my small series on the basic plot, I'm lumping Falling Action and the Conclusion together. Why? Because this already has the potential for a short post, so if I did them both separately they'd be even shorter. And also because I've always personally seen them as one and the same, happening at the exact same time within a novel.
The third reason's just because I can.
So. You've got your hook, you've ruined your character's life and sent them on some sort of journey/mission, you've pushed them off the cliff of no return multiple times, and just recently they hit the climax of their novel where they find out Darth Vader's their father.
To be fair, this is probably what your own characters are asking. What do they do now that their world's been shattered, in some form or another? This answer, like so many others in the writing world, is simple: there is no answer. No right one, at least. By now, you're the only one who knows your characters and your world enough to know what happens next. There's two things I can help you with, though: what you need to look at is whether this is the end of your story.
If your novel's a stand-alone or you're at the end of a series, you've got the job of finding the exact right spot for ending the story. You can leave some uncertainty, because like the characters the reader has no clue what happens next, only that there is going to be a "next." The problem arises, however, that you can't leave too much unanswered. Remember, this is it: leave your reader with a sense of closure. Does your character hop on a boat and sail off like Bilbo and Frodo? Live happily ever after? Lives, but doesn't have a happy life? How are they dealing with what happened to them? Are they hopeful? Broken but standing strong?
Ask yourself any number of these questions.
If your novel's the first/second/third/etc installment of a series, admittedly it can be a bit tricky. Here's why: there's your series's that continue the same plot from one to the next with other, smaller arcs in between. Think THE HUNGER GAMES, DIVERGENT, THAT RAVEN CYCLE, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE. There's also what I'm going to call a "serial series" where each novel has a remarkably different plot than the ones surrounding it, but all touch on a same overarching arc or theme, and if you didn't know better you could probably read the fifth one for fun and be perfectly fine. Think the RACHEL MORGAN series by Kim Harrison, or on a different scale the GOOSEBUMPS books. What's the difference between these two? The former can be answered in the paragraph below, and the latter has the ability to function with an ending like that of stand-alones: more closure for that one book in particular.
The difference between these books and the stand-alones from above is that you're allowed to leave some questions hanging. Cliffhangers can be a good thing if you use them right, and while you typically need some sort of closure for the particular plot-arc of that book, you're most likely not going to have solved the problems of the main plot of the series. So you get a little bit of headway, which means you get to leave a lot of uncertainty, and a lot of mystery in order to invite readers to look forward to the next book in the installment.
I consider Falling Action and the Conclusion of a novel to be practically the same (not exactly the same) due to where they typically stand. I mentioned in last week's post on Climax that you're more than likely going to see it towards the end of the novel. Which means that, after, there's not much room for more. This is good. The thing is, you don't want a hundred more pages after the "big reveal" that is the climax because you risk losing your reader's interest. What's more, they'll expect something else to happen, bigger than before, and if they don't get it they're going to feel cheated.
The falling action is the recuperation, both for characters and the reader. It feeds straight into the conclusion of the novel, and I'd even argue that they have a large overlap. What you're trying to do is smooth the waters save for a few ripples, and then find that sweet spot that allows for some sort of closure before typing those awesome words: "The End."
My biggest test: give your book to a writing or critique partner. If they tell you the ending dragged? Most likely you have too much falling action. Sometimes this step can be figured out by yourself, as well. Case in Point: on my first draft of THE HOLLOW MEN, I reached the ending, sat back, and then thought: "That took way too long." And I wasn't just talking about the entire writing process. The amount of time it took for me to get from the climax to the very end was about 10-15 k and even I was exhausted and kind of bored and finally said, "Okay, yeah. Something needs to go."
Listen to your gut when that happens, and if you're still unsure then pass it along to a CP, or somebody you know will tell you the truth on the matter. The end of your book is just as important as your beginning, and maybe even more so because the last thing you want is for your reader to think that you wasted their time.
Don't waste your reader's time.
Don't waste your reader's time. @Rae_Slater's thoughts on ending your novel (Click to Tweet)
Cliffhangers, closure, and questions to ask yourself when you're at the end of your novel (Click to Tweet)