Home Stories and Poems Freytag’s Pyramid: The 5 Steps to a Gripping Tale

Freytag’s Pyramid: The 5 Steps to a Gripping Tale


In this article, we talk about Freytag’s pyramid, a five-step paradigm that can be used to formulate an amazing story. Want to know the secret behind the perfect story, whether it’s in written or visual-audio format. The secret is to implement Freytag’s pyramid scheme when you structure your writing.

From Shakespearean tragedies to Nolan’s thrillers, Freytag’s pyramid’s application and structure can be found in varied forms of write-ups. From the oldest of plays to the latest Hollywood thrillers, Freytag’s dramatic structure finds its implementation in stories of all times.

Freytag’s Pyramid: The 5 Steps to a Gripping Tale

What is Freytag’s Pyramid?

Freytag’s Pyramid dates back to the time of Aristotle, the famous Greek philosopher. In one of his books, Poetics, Aristotle suggests that a plot is the most significant part of every drama, and it consists of three parts. According to him, a whole story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. This is called the three-act structure of dramatic storytelling.

Later on, in 1863, Gustav Freytag studied Aristotle and Shakespearean drama to develop a five-act structure to explain Shakespearean plays’ structure, particularly his tragedies.

Here is the list of Shakespeare’s top sonnets and novels.

Freytag’s Technique is an expansion of the three-act model to the five-act dramatic structure. These elements constitute the Freytag’s Triangle, also known as the Freytag’s Pyramid.

Freytag theorized that effective and engaging stories could be divided into two parts – the play and the counterplan, connected with a climax. These two parts create a pyramid shape containing five parts: introduction, rising movement, climax, falling movement, and catastrophe.

Freytag described his five-point model’s purpose to depict the conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist. Therefore, the flow of the play is in two halves: the hero’s own deeds, and it’s repercussions and those of his antagonist, which Freytag termed “rising and sinking.”

The vanquished hero’s rise and fall are of equal magnitude. Moreover, the greater the rise, the greater the fall. These two contrasting halves of the drama must be connected by a climax, to which the action rises to and from which the action falls away.

Freytag is indifferent about which of the contending parties justice favors; in both groups, good and evil, power and weakness, are mingled, just like in Iron Man vs. Captain America battle in the civil war.
Freytag’s pyramid consists of five parts, which some people refer to as a dramatic arc: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and catastrophe.

Following are their definitions and how they contribute to their story-

1. Exposition

In the exposition, the writer’s main focus is on creating the world in which the story happens. Like building the magical world of Harry Potter, describing Gringotts, The Diagon Alley, and Hogwarts. Your story needs to have a starting point, and in Freytag’s Pyramid, it starts with the exposition. In this part of the story, we are introduced to the major fictional elements – the setting, characters, style, relations, world, etc.

The setting starts at a particular place and time, the mood is set, and the characters with their situations are introduced. A backstory may be alluded to, or it can be a snapshot of something linked to an incident in the following dramatic arcs. Exposition can be conveyed in flashbacks, dialogues, background details, or the narrator telling a back-story or describing characters. The whole text with the iconic star wars track that plays at the beginning of every movie is part of the exposition.

The length of your exposition depends on the story’s complexity and the writer’s own personal preference. While Rowling’s Harry Potter is wrought with backstory and exposition, often spanning chapters of pure worldbuilding, C. S. Lewis offers minimal exposition in the Chronicles of Narnia series, choosing instead to entangle conflict with worldbuilding.

Click here for the list of greatest stories ever written.

Still, whether your exposition is fifty pages like in Lord of the Rings or a sentence like in Star Wars, use this part of the story to draw readers in. Make your fictional world feel as real as possible. The story’s exposition should end with the “inciting incident” – the event that establishes the story’s main theme.

2. Rising Action

The story picks up the pace, and exciting events begin immediately after the introduction, building the rising action in one or several stages toward the point of ultimate tragedy. Basically what we call -The Build Up, these events are generally the most important parts of the story. The entire plot depends on these events to set up the climax and ultimately lead to the story’s satisfactory resolution. Therefore, this part should be comprehensible, interesting, and intriguing enough to hold the audience’s attention.

The rising action explores the story’s main conflict until its climax; why is the hero going to be in a tragedy? This part can include the protagonist making wrong decisions. Things “get worse” in this part of the story: the antagonist hurts the protagonist, or the protagonist hurts someone who becomes antagonist, the introduction of some new characters and their equation with the protagonist can complicate the plot, etc.

Mostly, the rising action takes up the most number of pages. However, while a story’s rising action explores the story’s complexities, it should also dwell on much more than just the story’s plot. In the rising action, the reader often gains access to key pieces of backstory or more details about the set-up, info on why things are the way things are.

As the story further unfolds during rising action, the reader learns more about the characters, personalities, and motives. During the rising action, you need to create the world of the story, and you may want to create an ideal setup that will lead to the climax.

3. Climax

The climax is the tragic turning point, which changes the story’s tone. The plot would turn against the protagonist if things were going right, often revealing the protagonist’s hidden weaknesses or insecurities. For example, when Mandarin blows up Tony’s house in Iron Man 3, this incident reveals Tony’s anxiety issues and fears.

Though if it’s a comedy story, things can go from bad to good for the hero, for example, how Bruce got all god’s powers in Bruce Almighty. This often requires the main character to draw on hidden inner strengths. If there’s one part where you really want to stick the landing, it’s the climax. Here, the tragedies peak, things go haywire, and we learn the main characters’ fate.

Many writers write their story’s climax, believing that it needs to be crisp, fast-paced, and action-packed. While some stories might require that, especially an action movie, there’s no strict formula when it comes to writing a climax. The climax is like the “turning” point of a story – the part where the central conflict is addressed.

It’s important to remember that your climax is the turning point or a tragic event for the hero in the story, but it should also change the theme and tone of the story. This is your chance to show the themes that drive your story’s narrative, giving the reader an emotional takeaway.

4. Falling Action

In this sequence, the hostility of the villain thrashes the soul and hope of the hero. Freytag states two major rules for this stage: the number of characters should be as limited as possible, and the number of scenes through which the hero falls should be fewer than in the rising movement.

The falling action may contain a little suspense; there could be a prospect for relief for the doomed hero, where the outcome is in doubt, and there is still some hope. In falling action, the writer explores the consequences of the climax- what are its consequences? How does the climax affect the story’s central theme? How do the characters react to the denting changes made by the climax?

The story’s falling action is sometimes the toughest and the trickiest part to write. This is the best time for the writer to start tying up loose ends from the main conflict and push the story towards a resolution or basically a satisfactory ending while still keeping the focus on the climax and its aftermath.

Rising and falling action differ dramatically. While rising action is about building suspense, falling action is closing the loose ends so that the finale doesn’t look abrupt. At the same time, the story must still engage the reader and make your story compelling.

For example, in the Harry Potter series, the falling action always reveals new information or details about the wizarding world, whether Ravenclaw’s diadem discovery or Snape’s demise and flashback life with Lily in Deathly Hallows.

Here are some real stories behind Disney movies that you should read.


5. Catastrophe

The catastrophe is where the hero meets his logical ending. Freytag wants the writer not to make it easy for the hero. He doesn’t want writers to spare the hero’s life, and if you don’t want to kill him, at least kill or make him lose something or someone dear to him, exactly how Shakespeare ended it for his characters like Romeo, Juliet, Hamlet, or Macbeth.

Click here to read about some of the famous Shakespearean tragedies.

This sequence comprises events from the end of the falling action to the drama or narrative’s actual ending scene. Tragedies are resolved and conflicts solved, creating normality for the characters and release of tension and anxiety for the reader.

The comedy ends with a conclusion in which the protagonist is in a better situation than he was in the story’s beginning. On the contrary, a tragedy ends with a disaster, in which the protagonist’s situation is worse than it was at the beginning of the narrative.

Now the question is- How do you end a story? One of the most exasperating parts of telling a story is figuring out where the story ends. A story can continue forever, but giving the audience a sense of closure is important to have a satisfying conclusive end.

The resolution of the story needs to connect the incidents of the climax and falling action. Sometimes, this means ending your story with a frightening conclusion (contrary to Shakespeare’s saying- “All’s well that ends well”). This can involve either the protagonist dying, the antagonist escaping, or a fatal mistake committed by someone that leads to fatal consequences.

Other times, the story can end on a happier note. Maybe the hero learns from his mistakes (again, like Bruce Almighty), starts a new life, or defeats the main villain. You can also use the conclusion to continue your ideas on the story’s themes and give the reader something to think about after the last word is read. Remember how Nolan ended Inception with the top still spinning?

The other term used when discussing the resolution is “denouement.” A denouement refers to the last event that ties up the story’s loose ends, sometimes expressed in the story’s epilogue or closing scene.

Uses of Freytag’s Pyramid

1.If you want a framework to help you write a tragedy, then Freytag’s pyramid can greatly help you. Through your story from the perspective of two separate halves with a central scene in the middle that acts as a reflection point.

2. A dramatic story arc like Freytag’s pyramid helps people sympathize with a character example, the tragic ending of Romeo and Juliet. The audience is asked to live in the character’s story world and feel the complexity of their problem.

3. Story form, like the one Freytag’s pyramid helps to build, persuades audiences to believe in an idea, a cause.

4. When we have narrated a story, we want it to have some chronological order to make it more comprehensible(one of the reasons why fairytales start with a “once upon a time”) with a systematic unfolding of events that together weave an impactful story. Freytag’s triangle can help us achieve that.

5. Though Freytag theorized this pyramid to explain only the classical and Shakespearean texts, Freytag’s pyramid can easily be applied to many more modern texts and used in your own writing.

6. Initially, writing coaches often suggest writers focus on the three-act structure when writing. That’s a solid foundation, but Freytag’s Pyramid is a little more specific and detailed. Therefore, it can be easier to apply and write your own stories, especially for beginners.

7. A good description starts in the writer’s imagination and ends in the readers. To help the writer write a story descriptively and arouse all emotions in the audience’s mind, following Freytag’s pyramid can be useful.

8. It can also help you pen down strong and compelling poetry, non-fiction, screenplay, or even marketing stories. Your story flows well when you know how to communicate it to the audience and maintain a flow when introducing characters, conflicts, turning points, falling instances, and, most importantly, the story ending.

9. This model can help writers organize their thoughts when describing the drama’s main conflict, theme, and sequences.

It’s not mandatory to follow a dramatic arc while writing a story, and the following one does not guarantee an engaging story. Still, if you are a beginner and need a framework you can use to build your story, you can try and implement using Freytag’s pyramid, and possibly you’ll have written your next creative work from start to finish!




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