Elements of Plot: Rising Action


On our last writing post, you learned about Exposition as an Element of Plot, and I shared one example from Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines Book 1. Remember to spread exposition throughout your stories with key details to aid your reader in their journey. Exposition isn’t easy to get right the first time, so take some extra time to study the stories you love and hate to see where they do it well, or could have done it better. Now, we’ll move into the next section of Freytag’s Pyramid, Rising Action.

What is Rising Action?

Rising Action is the moment the cost, consequences, or loss of innocence begins and carries the characters and readers to the climax. Some say that the rising action is the section of your story where your character finds their way into a decision point. And this is where the Freytag’s Pyramid comparison falls apart. Or does it? Instead of looking at rising action as a straight line to the climax, let’s zoom into the pyramid display and see what’s really happening. Within that straight line are pulses like on a heart rate monitor. The baseline is constantly interrupted by the beats of the heart, which in literature are the beats of the story. You’ll follow your baseline until you hit a beat that sends you up, down, up, and back to the baseline, or vice versa. Depending on your story type, you’ll follow a healthy growth pattern, a healthy heartbeat, or a descending growth pattern, arrhythmia. Medical examples aside, remember that rising action addresses the initial change arc of your character, or their world, and can be a positive or negative growth.

Why is Rising Action Important?

Rising Action becomes important when you want to keep your readers engaged, get your character to grow, and propel your story to its climax.

Keeping your readers engaged isn’t always an easy task in the modern world. Writers can no longer get away with the Tolkien-esque introductions of world building before the story even begins. Attention spans have shortened, and the demand on your reader’s time from outside elements has increased. This means you need to set up enough of your story as succinctly as you can and move into the rising action to keep your reader in your story. Your reader’s engagement level will vary on what genre you write in and where they are in their reading journey. But one element remains universal in feedback within the last ten years.

Rising action begins your character’s change (growth/decay) arc. And readers nowadays are more likely to put the book down because they don’t like the character, or how the character responds to their obstacles, than if the book has poor grammar. Rising action is the point where your character leaves their known world, and this is also where the reader commits to the author to escape their normal world in favor of yours. The new world should be different, whether physically, emotionally, or psychologically. Often an inverse of the origin world, the new world found in your rising action, takes that character into an area of discomfort and allows your reader to wonder how they would react in that change of worlds. Then, like I shared earlier in the post in my medical example of the heartbeats, your character will have ups and downs in correlation of their arc. Showing the readers that the character isn’t always winning at every obstacle during that rising action builds the probability of payoff at the climax.

Rising action helps guide you through the muddy middle, through the midpoint, and into your climax scene(s). The try-fail cycle is a common term used by writers to describe the rising action. Your character is in a new world and they must try to achieve what they want. I’m going to let you in on something that we all subconsciously know, but don’t want to admit. Your character will have to fail to grow. Just because we call this part of the story the rising action doesn’t mean its all butterflies and rainbows from thereon out. Few would read that story. But knowing where your character must go is what will tell you where your rising action will lead.


Rising action is the point where the character makes the decision of action at the point of no return in your story. Essentially, your character’s only fall-back plan is to complete the journey through to the climax. The rising action is the story of that journey, and will give your character both wins and losses. Some they will recover from, and others may haunt them forever. The key components to a strong rising action are ups and downs in the character growth, keeping your readers engaged with succinct and pertinent events, and keeping the muddy from your middle. Everyone’s writing process differs, but if you keep those elements in mind, you’ll find your revisions and edits a little easier.

Previous Writing Post: Elements of Plot: Exposition

Previous Post: March Newsletter

Next: Elements of Plot: Climax (Check back next week!)

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