Freytag’s Pyramid | Plot Structure
Story development is all about plot. Plot is every stage in the story and each and every element in the story affects almost every character in the story. Plot shows us why things happen and why the characters react the way they do. If done right these sequence of events will come together to tell an emotionally resonant, compelling and powerful story.
A lot of planning goes into storytelling. Some might argue that writing a story should be more instinctive and organic in nature. As a reformed pantster I agree to a certain degree. However, after ending up in the tulies a time or two myself because I didn’t have a game plan made me change my mind. Now, once I’ve got an idea for my characters and the stories they need to tell I break out the index cards and start plotting. And then I go to my epic character interviews to go even deeper, not just into the minds and personalities of the characters but also to eke out any story details that eluded my while plotting. But I digress.
This process can still be an entirely organic and satisfying way of doing things. Yet there is an added bonus. Many interesting and unexpected things might happen along the way from beginning to end while writing your manuscript, things might even change completely from how you you planned them, but no matter what happens you will never lose sight of where you are going. Proper planning will always save the day.
The most recognizable plot structure, the one we first learn in grade school, is the one below. Freytag’s Pyramid divides a narrative into five parts. These five parts are the exposition, the rising action, the climax, the falling action, and finally, the resolution.
This is plot structure at its most basic. But keeping this structure in mind as you plot out your story is a very good practice.
The exposition takes us into the narrative and gives us the lay of the land. The most important part of this segment is the introduction of the main character. The protagonist gets to find out his or her main goal and what they stand to lose or gain if they do or do not accomplish this goal.
- Rising Action
Next is the rising action which has three components: the inciting incident, rising action, and conflict. The exposition is the corridor to the inciting incident, which happens immediately before the rising action. This is where things start to get good. It’s where the conflict begins. The hero or heroine is faced with obstacle after obstacle after obstacle, some bigger than others and some smaller, but each one serves to make the road to the final battle that much more difficult. It’s the struggle, it’s the climb, it’s the fight between characters who have drawn lines in the sand and made their enemies and allegiances. It’s where the stakes get higher and higher. Motives are clear and the work and journey towards the protagonist’s goal begins in earnest, and we see how the MC overcomes these challenges that impair his or her success.
On the heels of the conflict is the climax of the story. It’s the turning point of the story where the protagonist is called upon to show his or her true quality. It is here that a major decision must be made by the MC and this decision will affect the entire story and the characters within it. It is the moment we wait for with baited breath. It’s the point in the story where it is do or die for the protagonist. It’s the defining moment of the narrative where everything in the story hangs in the balance and cataclysmic change is in the air. The climax is where we really see who the protagonist truly is.
It is usually preceded by the lowest point for the hero or heroine. You know that point in the journey where you think, nope, they will never recover from this, and it appears that the villain has out manoeuvred our protagonist in every way possible. The suspense is excruciating at this moment. But then the battle royale we’ve all been waiting for takes place. The entire story is about this moment. Everything has led to this point in the story.
- Falling Action
The falling action is where the events of the narrative start to draw to a conclusion and whether that imminent conclusion proves to be happy or sad or something in between is close to being determined. It’s here that we see how what happened in the climax affected our hero or heroine and the characters in the story. How they were changed by what happened. Loose ends are tied up, conflicts have been resolved and everything that was once hidden is revealed and made clear. The falling action is also the harbinger of the resolution.
- Denouement or Resolution
This is the end. Every event in the book culminates in the final satisfying moment. It’s a wrap of the narrative where the trial by fire has come to a conclusion for the characters and readers alike and our protagonist’s tale has come to a close.
The Monomyth Story Structure
One of my favorite types of stories is the Monomyth. The Monomyth is also known as The Hero’s Journey and is comprised of 17 phases. Epic, right? We’ll talk more about the Monomyth another day, but mostly it just means this:
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man. ~ Joseph Campbell via Wikipedia
Star Wars, classic myths, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, all of these examples are tales of The Hero’s Journey. (Although it has been said that LOTR is an Archetypal Hero’s Journey some say it is rather an Event Story.) These are some of my favorite stories and even though they are fantasies of an epic scale they continue to enthrall readers of all ages because they strike a chord with their universal story structures and themes.
Story development begins with an idea. If you can take that idea and develop it properly a gripping story will unfold. So get started. I can’t wait to read your story.
Want more on structure? Stay tuned and subscribe to our The Power of Words™ blog and discover more on plot, story development and different story structures.
Have a story you want to tell and need a ghostwriter to write it? Need help with plot and structure? Contact me with your project details.