Story Patterns from the 19th Century
Gustav Freytag was a German novelist from the Nineteenth century who explored formulas in stories and novels (well before Blake Snyder and his “Save the Cat” series), and he found that similar narrative patterns existed in most of them. He developed a seven-step diagram that was used to study a story’s plot. His diagram is commonly referred to as the Freytag Story Pyramid.
Many of the elements of his plot exercise have been covered in other lessons, but this visual reminder will serve as additional support for the continued study of story and plot structure.
- Exposition: This is where the key characters, setting, and story background is established.
- Inciting Incident: This is the catalyst for the story, this single event launches our characters into the primary conflict.
- The Rising Action: The stakes begin to build for our protagonist, and the obstacles begin to get more difficult and challenging. The goal itself seems unreachable.
- The Climax: This is the peak of the story; this is where key decisions must be made by the protagonist in order to reach the goal. Monumental risks, personal sacrifice, and overcoming personal demons are some of the things that may happen at this moment.
- Falling Action – What are the direct and immediate results of the climax. This is what happens after the main “story question” is answered.
- Resolution: The loose ends are getting wrapped up; the main crisis/conflicts are overcome, and the beginning of the end is reached. The end is nigh.
- Denouement: Secrets are revealed, questions are answered, and final thoughts about theme and characters are shared. It is finished … of course unless you’re setting up a sequel.
Noel T. Manning II 9.1.16
Boggs, J. M., & Petrie, D. (2008). The art of watching films (7th ed.). Princeton, NJ: McGraw-Hill.
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An explanation of Freytag’s Pyramid by Julian Lopez on Prezi. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://prezi.com/d9uiepgfop3b/an-explanation-of-freytags-pyramid/
Freytag’s Pyramid. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.ohio.edu/people/hartleyg/ref/fiction/freytag.html
Freytag’s Pyramid. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://web.cn.edu/kwheeler/freytag.html
Gardner, T. (2004, May). Plot Structure: A Literary Elements Mini-Lesson – ReadWriteThink. Retrieved from http://www.readwritethink.org/classroom-resources/lesson-plans/plot-structure-literary-elements-904.html
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Ray, R. (n.d.). Five Act & Dramatic Structure| Denouement | Plot Diagram. Retrieved from http://www.storyboardthat.com/articles/e/five-act-structure