Rising action takes the reader from the initial problem to the climax of the story. Let’s learn more about rising action in a story.
When you have a story you want to tell, it can be tough to figure out how much time you should spend introducing your characters and leading your audience to your story’s turning point or climax. Rising action refers to the period between the exposition (the part of your story that introduces characters, sets the scene, and helps readers understand the themes of your short story or novel) and the climax of your story (when the tension breaks and the conflict of the story is resolved). As a writer, it’s key to spend plenty of time developing the rising action of your story.
The rising action portion of your writing will take up the majority of the plot, and it’s key that you understand how to keep your reader engaged, constantly wanting to know more about your characters and excitedly turning to the next page. Then, when you appropriately develop the rising action portion of your story, your reader won’t feel like they’re being strung along. Instead, they’ll enjoy the development of both the story and the characters as the climax approaches.
Here, we’ll explore the definition of rising action, how rising action plays a role in the development of your story, and tips on keeping your reader engaged as your story develops.
Rising Action: The Basics
The rising action is the part of a story that begins after the exposition (introduction) of the story and leads the reader to the climax. Rising action starts with an inciting incident–an event that hooks the reader on the problem that the main character hopes to resolve throughout the story. While this event often involves dialogue between characters, it can also consist of a character realizing something about themselves, the world, or another person.
Throughout rising action development, tension should grow, leading the reader to want to learn more about how the characters will work to solve their issue. Known as the “meat” of a novel, rising action builds suspense. Throughout rising action, readers should be able to identify with the characters’ feelings, thinking about what they might do if they were in the situation the main character is facing.
Over time, the inciting incident grows, leading readers to become more interested in how the main character will resolve the conflict. Finally, rising action ends at the climax of the story, when readers experience the resolution of the conflict, for better or worse.
Building Your Plot
Gustav Freytag, a 19th-century writer from Germany, developed a framework now known as Freytag’s pyramid. His diagram showed the start of a story as exposition, with a sharp incline of rising action, a climax at the top of the incline, a decline labeled following action, and finally, the end of the story, entitled denouement. Many literary experts agree that Freytag’s pyramid is a bit misleading. While the sequence of steps makes sense for most stories, equal weight is given to rising and falling action is not typical of most novels and short stories.
In most cases, rising action takes far longer than falling action. By the time the reader gets to the story’s climax, they already know the ins and outs of the conflict and have had the opportunity to see the characters develop. Falling action serves to tie up loose ends and answer questions that the reader has following the resolution of the conflict and does not take nearly as long as rising action. Even though Freytag’s pyramid is now seen as a bit outdated, it can still be helpful when you’re working to develop your creative writing plot points.
For example, keeping in mind that your introduction and conclusion should be a similar length and that your rising action should be far longer than your resolution and falling action can help create a story that helps keep your reader on the hook as your characters grow change. In addition, drawing a plot diagram that includes the main points of your rising action can help ensure that you’re distributing the different sections of your writing appropriately.
When writing rising action, you’ll want to create events that allow your reader to get to know your characters and help them begin to predict what might happen as your characters work through the story’s events as they approach the conflict.
You may want to use the rising action portion of the story structure to show how your characters are growing and changing. How your character reacts to a situation during the exposition may be different from how they react to conflict during the climax of the story, depending on that particular character’s story arc. You may also find our explainer on what is verbal irony helpful.
Staying the Course
As you write your rising action, you may want to keep track of the elements of the plot that your reader will want to be resolved during the falling action part of your story. It can be helpful to have someone else read your story to ensure that all plot elements are tied up by the end. Many readers feel frustrated when issues presented during rising action are not tied up over the events that occur during the falling action portion of the story.
Rising action serves as your opportunity to keep your readers engaged, and you must take your reader through your character’s daily life during the rising action period of your story. Think about the traits you want your character to exemplify as they work through the story’s climax, and be sure to work some aspects of those traits into the rising action sequence. Rising action in literature builds dramatic structure, allowing your readers to get to know and fall in love with your characters, one sentence at a time.
Rising Action Writing Tips
It can be tough to write rising action when you already know where your storyline will go. However, it can be helpful to look at the exposition of your story and the climax, figuring out what needs to happen in between to get your main character where they need to go.
1. Use Writing Prompts
Writing prompts can help you develop your ability to write rising action that engages your readers. Sometimes, when you already know the direction of the story you want to tell, it can be tempting to take the reader quickly from the exposition to the climax. Writing prompts can help you develop your ability to share your story with your audience, allowing them to see how your characters grow.
2. Imagine Life as Your Character
As always, taking a step away from your writing can be helpful if you’re struggling to create the rising action you want. Taking some time to think through a day in your main character’s life can help you create the situations they need to grow and change in a way that allows them to resolve their conflict.
For more advice, learn how to create suspense.