April 22, 2016 | Posted in: April 2016 A to Z Blog Challenge, Writing & Grammar Tips, XterraWeb Book Blog

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Story Structure: Freytag’s Pyramid
or the Five-Act Story Structure

Freytag's Pyramid or the Five-Act Story Structure

History of Freytag’s Pyramid (or the Five-Act Story Structure)

Gustav Freytag was a nineteenth-century German novelist who saw common patterns in the plots of stories and novels. He developed a diagram based on the work of the Greek philosopher Aristotle.

In Aristotle’s book Poetics, he wrote that the unified structure of a drama was formed like a basic triangle. The low left point of the triangle was the protasis (introduction), the middle high point of the triangle was the epitasis (crisis), and the low right point of the triangle was the catastrophe (resolution of conflict).

Freytag took Aristotle’s triangle, transformed it into a pyramid, and added two more levels at the left and right mid-points of the triangle. The result was Freytag’s pyramid or the Five-Act Story Structure. According to Freytag, the plot of a story or novel was divided into five parts or acts: Act 1: Exposition (or introduction), Act 2: Rising Action (or complication), Act 3: Climax (or turning point), Act 4: Falling Action, and Act 5: Denouement (or resolution).

Why Writers Use the Five-Act Story Structure

The original intention of Freytag’s Pyramid or the Five-Act Story Structure might have been to analyze previously written works, but writers have found it a helpful method to conceptualize the dramatic points in stories. This is only one of many story structures, but using this story structure (or another) provides a better chance of providing reader satisfaction.

If a story is looked at in percentages, Act 1 will be 25% of the story, Acts 2-4 will be 50% of the story, and Act 5 will be 25% of the story.

To write using the Five-Act Story Structure, a writer must be able to identify three things:

  1. The inciting incident: must strongly affect the protagonist and leave him/her no choice but to resolve the incident
  2. Conflict(s) faced by the protagonist: can be internal, external or both and will drive the narrative
  3. Resolution of inciting incident: protagonist must overcome conflict(s) and be left permanently changed

Components of the Five-Act Story Structure

Act 1: Exposition

  • Also known as the introduction
  • Presents the setting (time and place)
  • Establishes the mood and atmosphere of the story
  • Establishes the world in which action takes place
  • Introduces the protagonist and/or antagonist
  • May introduce other characters
  • Introduces and/all thematic elements that will resonate throughout the story
  • Introduces the goals and/or conflicts the protagonist is facing
  • Introduces the POV (point of view) the story is told from
  • Lays the foundation of the plot
  • Ends with the beginning of the inciting incident
  • The stage is set for the main action
  • The reader has been “hooked”

Act 2: Rising Action

  • Also known as the inciting incident or complication
  • Sparked by the inciting incident
  • An exciting event or inciting incident occurs, which leads to conflict and impels the story to move forward
  • Basic conflict introduced in Act 1 is complicated by secondary conflicts and obstacles designed to keep the protagonist from reaching his/her goal
  • Lesser antagonists may be introduced/li>
  • Reader begins to feel the rising tension associated with the conflict

Act 3: Climax

  • Also known as the turning point or reversal
  • Marks a notable change, for better or worse, in the protagonist’s journey toward his/her goal
  • Bulk of action or drama takes place
  • Most intense moment in the story occurs

Act 4: Falling Action

  • Also known as the final suspense
  • Conflict comes to a head and begins to resolve
  • Made clear that protagonist will reach his/her goal
  • Protagonist shows signs of overcoming the antagonist and/or other conflicts

Act 5: Denouement

  • Also known as the resolution
  • Loose ends are tied up
  • All conflicts are resolved
  • Protagonist has achieved his/her goal
  • Story concludes

2 Comments

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