Plot Structure: Freytag’s Pyramid

When you are planning your story, it may be useful to follow a ‘plot structure’. One of the most well-known of these is Freytag’s Pyramid. It follows a 5-point structure. Once you are aware of this structure, you will notice how many novels and tv programs / series fit the pattern. It works! Some writers feel it is too prescriptive and can stifle originality, however it is a useful ‘tool’ for your ‘Writers’ Toolbox’.

Freytag’s Pyramid

What is Freytag’s Pyramid? Novelist Gustav Freytag developed this narrative pyramid in the 19th century, as a description of a structure fiction writers had used for millennia. (Aristotle; Shakespeare; F Scott Fitzgerald, Disney!)

Freytag’s Pyramid describes the five key stages of a story, offering a conceptual framework for writing a story from start to finish. These stages are:

  1. Exposition
  2. Rising Action
  3. Climax
  4. Falling Action
  5. Resolution

Exposition:  Freytag’s Pyramid uses the exposition as the start of the story. This part of the story primarily introduces the major fictional elements:  the setting, characters, style, viewpoint etc. Your exposition should end with the “inciting incident” – the event that starts the main conflict of the story.

Rising Action: The rising action explores the story’s conflict up until its climax. Often, things “get worse” in this part of the story: someone makes a wrong decision, the antagonist hurts the protagonist, new characters further complicate the plot, etc. When you look back at the story’s rising action, it should be clear how each plot point connects to the story’s climax and aftermath.

Climax: At the climax, the story’s conflict peaks and we learn the fate of the main characters.   Think of the climax as the “turning” point in the story – the central conflict is addressed in a way that cannot be undone.

Falling Action: In falling action, the writer explores the aftermath of the climax. Do other conflicts arise as a result? How does the climax comment on the story’s central themes? How do the characters react to the irreversible changes made by the climax?

Resolution / Denouement: The resolution of the story involves tying up the loose ends of the climax and falling action. Sometimes, this means following the story’s aftermath to a chilling conclusion—the protagonist dies, the antagonist escapes, a fatal mistake has fatal consequences, etc. Other times, the resolution ends on a lighter note. Maybe the protagonist learns from their mistakes, starts a new life, or else forgives and rectifies whatever incited the story’s conflict. This may also be called the denouement.

 

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