The rising action is the section that leads up to the climax. It’s in this section that the main tension is created, which coalesces into the climax. Usually, the bulk of the story takes place in this section.
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Definition and Explanation of Rising Action
The rising action comes after the exposition or the section in which the introductory elements are brought into the story. It also comes before the climax or the section in which the conflict comes to a head. Every story has a section that can be labeled as the rising action no matter if the story follows a traditional plot structure. It is one part of what is known as Freytag’s Pyramid (the structure and elements of which can be seen below). On the far side of the pyramid is the falling action, of the phase after the climax in which the tension is dispelled, leading into the resolution and dénouement.
Elements of the Rising Action
The rising action includes an inciting incident or some kind of complication that creates the main conflict of the story. The conflict could be a traditional one, such as an argument between two people or groups, or one that uses the elements in human vs. nature, human vs. Society, or any of the other types of conflicts. When the complication occurs, it marks the end of the exposition and the beginning of the rising action. As mentioned above, the rising action is usually the longest part of the story. It helps to build suspense and prepare the reader for the climax. Some scholars and readers believe that the rising action is the most important part of any plot structure.
Examples of Rising Action
In this narrative poem, readers can find examples from all parts of a traditional plot structure. The rising action occurs when the Mariner shoots and kills the albatross (the inciting incident). Here is the passage:
And I had done a hellish thing,
And it would work ’em woe:
For all averred, I had killed the bird
That made the breeze to blow.
Ah wretch! said they, the bird to slay,
That made the breeze to blow!
Everything that follows, leading up to the climax when the Mariner realizes the precious nature of life and the albatross falls from his neck. In between, the Mariner meets Death and Life-in-Death, he sees his crew die, he lives among the dead crew and more.
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
Romeo and Juliet often servers as an example of a variety of literary techniques. The rising action begins when Romeo and Juliet meet at the ball and continues up until the point that Romeo kills Tybalt.
In ‘The Road Not Taken,’ the poet’s speaker describes a man standing at a crossroads, trying to describe how the two similar roads are different. The rising action begins when the man starts trying to determine which road to take. It ends and the climax begins when the man chooses his path. Here is a passage from that section:
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
In this well-loved novel, the rising action begins when Harry starts receiving letters from an unknown source on his eleventh birthday. These letters invite him to join Hogwarts, a boarding school for wizards. After this, Harry learns about his true parentage, goes to Hogwarts, meets his friends, and learns about Voldemort. The climax occurs when Harry and his friends confront Voldemort after making their way through a series of tasks.
Freytag’s pyramid was created by German writer Gustav Freytag in the 19th century. He argued that all plots could be broken down into five parts. They are:
- Rising action
- Falling action
He created the pyramid in order to describe and define 19th-century plays that were usually divided into five parts already. Today, the pyramid is used to help new writers and literary students understand one of the main ways the stories come together. It is also applied to other narratives, such as those found in television shows and films.
- Exposition: the first part of the plot and the section of the story in which the audience learns details about the characters, setting, and their relationships to one another. The historical details are also set out during this section of the story.
- Rising Action: the complicating event or events that create problems for the characters and lead up to the climax. Some believe this part of the story to be the most important as, without it, the climax would never occur, or would the falling action and dénouement. In a play, the rising action spans between two and three acts.
- Climax: the central turning point of the story. It is where the story peaks in tension and the reader should be most engaged and excited about the story. Usually, something happens during the climax that redefines the narrative and paves the way for the falling action and dénouement.
- Falling Action: the series of actions that follow the climax. It is usually the hardest part of the pyramid to stop due to the fact that it can take several different forms. It ends with the resolution.
- Dénouement: French for “outcome.” It refers to the part of the plot that ties up the loose ends and reveals what happens to the characters next. It appears at the very end of the story and might be a chapter, a page, or a sentence.
Related Literary Terms
- Conflict: a plot device used by writers when two opposing sides come up against each other.
- Climax: the point at which the main character is forced to contend with the central conflict of the story.
- Foreshadowing: refers to the hints a writer gives a reader about what’s going to happen next. It’s a common literary device that’s used every day.
- Cliffhanger: a narrative device that’s used to end a story abruptly before an action or segment of the plot is concluded.
- Flashback: a plot device in a book, film, story, or poem in which the readers learn about the past.