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 in doing so, he discovered that similar narrative patterns existed in most written works of fiction throughout history (and even compelling true-life stories that were engaging to audiences). Freytag expanded upon Aristotle’s unified plot structure ( 350 BC – Poetics) and 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 a previous lesson, 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. You should always work to be aware of this, and why it is important. This is where “the story question” is launched.
- The Rising Action: The stakes begin to build for our protagonist, and the obstacles (conflict & crisis) 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 (or the conflict wins), 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 9.4.18
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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
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