But all douchebaggery aside I have to admit in all my years in college and what passed for my high school education, I somehow remained ignorant of a concept regarded, at least by some, as a codified standard. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve studied my share of theories and diagrams regarding plot structure, but this was mainly in regards to screenwriting. Ask me about Syd Field’s three act structure or the sequence approach and I could bore you for hours. Now, with the obligatory overcompensating out of the way let’s get down to business. The plot triangle in question is known as “Freytag’s pyramid” invented by 19th century German novelist and playwright Gustav Freytag. It was designed to analyze the structure of five-act plays and broke down the “dramatic arc” into five distinct parts: Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action and Denouement.
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The next stop on the Dramatic Arc Express is rising action, which Freytag defines as a series of related incidents that build toward the point of the greatest interest. This greatest interest is called the climax and known in dramatic or literary works as a decisive moment of maximum intensity or a major turning point in the plot. This is where Freytag loses me a bit because I’m so used to the ongoing screenwriting debate about the differences between crisis and climax in relation to the third act that for it to appear in the middle of a story seems oddly anticlimactic. This brings me to another famous narrative triangle, though now we move from equilateral to the scalene, screenwriting guru Syd Field’s three act structure.
the part of a literary plot that occurs after the climax has been reached and the conflict has been resolved.
It has recently come to me attention that the word isn’t pronounced [dee-nou- muhnt] but rather [dey-noo-mahn] much to my consternation. (thanks Matt) The denouement, much like exposition, is easy to define and recognize, it’s where the main conflict of the story gets resolved, main characters often achieve enlightenment or some catharsis and any loose plot threads get tied up. So how does any of this help you write a better story? I’m not sure that it does. I’ve seen better road maps drawn by kindergarteners in crayon that what Freytag model provides. Perhaps we’re no better understanding how narrative stories work now, than all the way back when Aristotle first figured out that they all have a beginning, middle and an end. (and that guy was a genius) If there was some magic formula or universal panacea for writing great dramatic stories, then anyone could do it. But in the end it doesn’t hurt to have a few signposts along the way.