In most stories – whether they are novels, plays, or films – the audience or reader is introduced to the most important characters and setting at the beginning. Only at the end are the plotlines and character arcs resolved.
The bulk of the story, however, is in the middle. This is where the twists and turns of the plot create a forward momentum, driven both by the characters’ actions and external forces. This chain of incidents that stack one on top of the other compose the rising action.
Rising action definition
Rising action refers to the series of events within a plot where tensions rise, stakes are increased, and interest is created. The rising action involves decisions made by the main characters and twists in the plot which build towards a point where tensions peak – the climax.
Within a dramatic structure, rising action follows the exposition or introduction of a story and leads to the climax, and so it typically makes up the most extensive section of a narrative.
Where does rising action fit within a dramatic structure?
In the majority of dramatic structures, rising action follows the inciting incident that takes the protagonist away from their normal world that is established in the introduction. Rising action then encapsulates most of the following events that lead up to the climax near the end of the story:
Rising action and Freytag’s Pyramid
As laid out by the 19th-century German writer Gustav Freytag, an alternative form of dramatic structure is how nearly all stories can be divided into five sections. Here, in an outline named Freytag’s pyramid, rising action comes immediately after the introduction and before the central climax:
- Rising action
- Falling action
With the climax in the middle, Freytag’s pyramid structures each section slightly differently from what is more common in contemporary stories. Rising action still has an important role to play in his model, but it doesn’t have the same weighting as in other modern models.
Examples of rising action
No matter what type of dramatic structure a story employs, rising action makes up a significant section of the plot. This is true no matter the storytelling medium, whether that’s novels, films, plays, or even flash fiction.
Rising action examples in literature
The Lord of the Rings
The inciting incident in The Lord of the Rings forces Frodo to leave the Shire. The rising action then tracks all the following events of his quest, from the first journey to Rivendell and then the entire adventure to Mordor, up until the climax when he reaches Mount Doom and finally destroys the One Ring.
In the first Harry Potter book, Harry learns that he is a wizard and is thrust into a new world of witchcraft and wizardry. This is the start of the rising action: he meets Ron and Hermione, arrives at Hogwarts, and learns how to be a wizard. All these events culminate with a climax when he faces off against Voldemort.
Rising action examples in movies
In A New Hope, when Luke discovers that his aunt and uncle have been killed, this inciting incident sets him off on a quest to rescue Princess Leia and defeat the Empire. The majority of the events in the film are part of the rising action which ends with the climax – the destruction of the Death Star.
In Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Michael Crichton’s novel, the characters are introduced in the opening scenes and so is the island where dinosaurs have been cloned and roam free. Shortly after, all hell breaks loose.
The rising action follows each group of characters as they try to survive and regroup. The climax sees the t-rex saves them from the group of velociraptors, allowing them to escape and get rescued.
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Examples of rising action
What’s the difference between rising action and falling action?
Rising action consists of the increasing tensions that lead up to the climax of a story. Falling action includes the unwinding of that built-up tension following the climax.
What is the purpose of rising action?
Rising action keeps the reader engaged by increasing tension and raising the stacks in preparation for the climax. It is where most of the plot developments occur, including major decisions made by the characters as well as twists in the story. It is also where characters and themes can be thoroughly fleshed out.