Act 3 is also called the conclusion. It includes the falling action, and denouement (or resolution). This should take no more than the last 20% of the story. It can be quick and abrupt, composed of only a few scenes after the climax, or can ease off gently depending on your story’s needs.
What happens in Act 3?
- The protagonist uses the new knowledge, realization, or tool gained at the climax of the story to defeat the antagonist.
- We see the consequences of the antagonist’s defeat.
- A new normal life is established for the protagonist.
Life for the protagonist at the end of the story will likely not be the same one that protagonist started with, because they will be changed by the events in the story (usually, but not always*). You did put your characters through hell didn’t you? Have you scarred them for life? If not, you may have been too kind.
*And a moment to talk about character arc! On occasion, the protagonist can end up in the same place he/she started. In one particular book I recall that the protagonist tried to change, but those efforts failed. This reinforced the point that this world was a brutal, ugly, miserable place to be. There should be a reason for using this technique. Use with care. Readers may feel cheated if by the end of the book the world, or the protagonist’s worldview, is the same as when you began.
Let’s look at the conclusion of “Finding Nemo”
Using the new knowledge: Nemo finds a school of fish caught in a net, and tells them to swim down. This is something he learned while he was trapped in the fish tank at the dental office.
Consequences: Nemo saves the school of fish, and Dory who was trapped with them. He is reunited with his father and they return to their home on the reef together.
The new normal life: Nemo starts going to school and making friends at the reef. His father is no longer overprotective.
What if I killed off my protagonist in the final battle?
Then the protagonist won’t be around to see the consequences of his/her actions, but the reader is still shown what the consequences of those actions.
If we go back to the example of Romeo and Juliet, we are shown that the Montague’s and Capulet’s resolve their differences and end their feud after they find the bodies in the cemetery.
How is this useful for editing?
Have I resolved all the major plots and subplots? If I am going to write a sequel or a series, have I left any threads loose? How is my hero different from the beginning of the novel? How is the world different than it was at the start? Is my conclusion too long, and does that robs the climax of impact? Or did I finish too quickly to let the ending sink in to readers minds? Did I tie the story together, full circle, by echoing the beginning of the novel in some way (this is a tip for adding resonance to the end of your novel)?
I’ve always liked writing endings best. I almost always set out writing the story with the end in mind, and sometimes I work backwards from that point to get to the beginning. The ending is also where I get to finally be kind to my characters and give them what they wanted or needed all along.
It’s the beginnings I have trouble with, but more about that another day!
Do you have a favorite stage in the novel writing process?