Rising Action

Rising action is the events between the exposition and climax of a story. The climax is the turning point, or the most exciting point. The rising action is a series of events that develop the plot. The rising action is really the 'meat' of any story, in which most of the important action occurs. Generally speaking, any work of writing that has a plot can be said to have rising action. Here are a few of the key defining features of rising action to help you identify it: The rising action begins with an inciting incident or complication.

Rising Action Definition

'Rising action' is a part of the plot immediately preceding the climax. It slowly builds the reader's anticipation towards the climax. As the name suggests, it indicates the impending action by weaving situations around the protagonists that will lead to the climax. This part is equally important, since it lays down the groundwork for the climax. Rising Action Definition The rising action in a story moves the plot toward the climax through a series of progressively more complicated events and decisions by the main character or characters, leading up to a final decision of great significance. Rising action refers to the part of the story after the characters and setting are introduced and where the events of the story begin to create suspense as the character faces conflict. The rising action of the story includes the events that help to build toward the climax of the story.

What is rising action? Here’s a quick and simple definition:

The rising action of a story is the section of the plot leading up to the climax, in which the tension stemming from the story's central conflict grows through successive plot developments. For example, in the story of 'Little Red Riding Hood,' the rising action includes everything that takes place after Little Red sets off for Grandma's house—up to the moment she comes face to face with the Big Bad Wolf. In other words, most of the story is rising action, which is often case.


Some additional key details about rising action:

  • The rising action follows the part of the plot known as the exposition (in which the world of the story and its characters are established), and precedes the climax.
  • Every story has a section that can be described as the 'rising action,' even if the story has an unconventional narrative or plot structure.
  • The opposite of rising action is falling action, the phase of a story following the climax in which the main conflict is de-escalated and tension is further dispelled.

Understanding Rising Action

The rising action is really the 'meat' of any story, in which most of the important action occurs. Generally speaking, any work of writing that has a plot can be said to have rising action. Here are a few of the key defining features of rising action to help you identify it:

  • The rising action begins with an inciting incident or complication. The inciting incident is an event that creates a problem or conflict for the characters and sets in motion a series of increasingly significant events that constitute the main events of the story. The inciting incident marks the end of the exposition and the beginning of the rising action. Note that the inciting doesn't have to be an actual event—it may just be a piece of information that adds tension or suspense to the actions of the characters. This information is sometimes referred to as the complication rather than as the inciting incident. Here are two examples, one of a complication and one of an inciting incident:
    • The complication in 'Little Red Riding Hood' is that there is a Big Bad Wolf in the forest, making Little Red's trip all the more dangerous and suspenseful.
    • The inciting incident of the first Home Alone movie is that Kevin gets left at home when his family goes on vacation.
  • The rising action is typically the longest part of the story. This is the simplest rule of thumb for identifying the rising action. While this rule is pretty dependable, it's important to know that it's not fool-proof, because some stories have atypical plot structures. But as in the example of Little Red Riding Hood, the rising action usually constitutes the bulk of a story.
  • The rising action builds tension or suspense. In other words, the rising action can also be identified by paying attention to how the audience feels during the story. As long as the feeling of tension or suspense associated with the central conflict continues to increase, the action is still rising.
  • The rising action ends with the climax. Most of the tension and suspense that get built up over the course of the rising action are dispelled during the climax. Therefore, one good way to identify a story's rising action is to identify the climax. Since the climax dispels the tension that was built up during the rising action, the climax is directly concerned with the conflict or tension that drove the rising action. For instance, if the climax of a mystery story is the unmasking of the villain, then the rising action is likely concerned with the crime committed and the discovery of different clues leading to the villain's identification.

Simon from simon says. Some people would describe the rising action as the most important part of the plot because the climax and outcome of the story would not take place if the events of the rising action did not occur.

The Rising Action and Freytag's Pyramid

One of the first and most influential people to create a framework for analyzing plots was 19th-century German writer Gustav Freytag, who argued that all plots can be broken down into five stages:

  • Rising action

Freytag originally developed this theory as a way of describing the plots of plays at a time when most plays were divided into five acts, but his five-layered 'pyramid' can also be used to analyze the plots of other forms of literature, including novels, short stories, films, and television shows. Here's the pyramid as originally defined by Freytag:

One important thing to note about the shape of Freytag's pyramid is that it shows all parts of the story as having equal length, with climax at the very center of the diagram. However, this is actually a bit misleading, since the rising action is usually longer than other parts of the story, and ends closer to the story's ending than its middle. Therefore, a slightly more accurate version of Freytag's pyramid (modified to reflect a longer rising action) might look something like this:

Note: Freytag's Pyramid Doesn't Fit All Plots

Rising Action

While Freytag's pyramid is very handy, not every work of literature fits neatly into its structure. In fact, many modernist and post-modern writers intentionally subvert the standard narrative and plot structure that Freytag's pyramid represents. So while the rising action is often spoken about in relation to other parts of Freytag's pyramid, there may be times when it's easier to determine what part of a story is the rising action based on criteria other than its position relative to other sections of the plot, such as what part of the narrative builds tension or suspense.

Rising Action Examples

Rising Action in A Streetcar Named Desire

In Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire, the rising action begins when Blanche Dubois arrives at the home of her sister, Stella, and reveals that she has, under mysterious circumstances, lost possession of their childhood home. This is the inciting incident. Stanley, Stella's husband, is immediately suspicious of Blanche, who in turn is very critical of Stanley and derides him constantly for his low class and 'primitive' ways. The tension between these three characters grows over the course of the months that Blanche stays with the couple in their tiny apartment, and the mystery around the circumstances prompting Blanche's visit also continues to grow, until one day Stanley tells Stella everything he has heard about Blanche's sordid past from others: that she was fired from her teaching job for having an affair with a seventeen-year-old boy, and began working as a prostitute at a local hotel. Tension reaches a new height after this revelation, as it's unclear how all the various characters will respond to the new information. The play reaches a climax when Stanley finally confronts Blanche and, it's strongly suggested, rapes her.

In short:

  • Inciting incident: Blanche arrives in New Orleans and discloses that she has lost Belle Reve, the family home.
  • Climax: Stanley rapes Blanche.
  • Rising action: Everything in between.

Rising Action in Romeo and Juliet

People have differing opinions about where the climax occurs in Romeo and Juliet, and there are therefore two competing views of where the rising action ends. Most can agree that the inciting incident or complication is when Romeo sees Juliet at the masquerade ball and falls in love with her, but discovers shortly after kissing her that she belongs to the Montague family, with which his own family is locked in a bitter rivalry; therefore, their love seems doomed from the outset. The action continues to rise as Romeo and Juliet meet in secret later that night, and are married the next day, also in secret.

Some would argue that the rising action comes to an end the following day, when Romeo kills a Capulet (Juliet's cousin Tybalt) and must flee the city to avoid execution. In this analysis, the remainder of the play (in which Juliet fakes her own death in order to avoid having to marry another man, and Romeo, thinking Juliet dead, actually kills himself) would be considered falling action. But others would argue that the rising action only comes to an end when Romeo kills himself after learning, incorrectly, that Juliet has died. These interpretations are quite different, but neither is wrong. As you can see, how readers define the rising action often depends entirely on where they interpret the climax to occur.

In short:

  • Inciting incident: Romeo kisses Juliet and discovers she's a Capulet.
  • Climax: (Option 1) Romeo kills Tybalt, or (Option 2) Romeo kills himself.
  • Rising action: Everything in between.

Rising Action in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner tells the story of a Mariner who shoots an albatross (a large sea bird) out of the sky after it has been following his ship for several days. Shortly after the albatross dies, the wind disappears and the mariner's ship becomes stranded in the arctic. The Mariner's shipmates hang the albatross around his neck as a punishment. Unable to move without wind, the men on the ship grow so thirsty that they cannot even speak. When the Mariner sees what he believes is a ship approaching, he must bite his arm and drink his own blood so that he is able to alert the crew, who all grin with joy. But the joy fades as the ghostly ship, which sails without wind, approaches. On its deck, Death and Life-in-Death gamble with dice for the lives of the sailors and the Mariner. After Life-in-Death wins the soul of the Mariner, the other sailors begin to die of thirst, falling to the deck one by one, each staring at the Mariner in reproach. The Mariner himself, however, doesn't die; he is cursed to live among the dead crew.

By the time the last of the crew has died, it seems as though it could not get much worse for the Mariner. The sense of tension has ballooned around the question of what his fate will be, and whether he'll ever be free of the albatross around his neck. But then comes the climax: the Mariner has an epiphany in which he realizes the value of all life, and as a consequence the albatross falls from his neck and the Mariner is, at least partially, released from his curse.

In short:

  • Inciting incident: The Mariner shoots and kills the albatross.
  • Climax: The Mariner realizes that life is precious and the albatross falls from his neck.
  • Rising action: Everything in between.

What's the Function of Rising Action in Literature?

Virtually every story can be said to use rising action to build the narrative. It serves the following purposes:

  • It builds suspense and increases the feeling of tension surrounding the central conflict or question of the story.
  • It moves the plot forward, brining it to the point of climax, which enables the story to reach a resolution.
  • It reveals essential information about the characters through their responses to various plot developments, making them more complex, relatable, and lifelike.
  • It 'pulls the reader in.' The rising action is the part of the story where writers either win their reader's attention, or fail to build a compelling narrative and lose their audience as a result.

Other Helpful Rising Action Resources

Rising Action

  • The Wikipedia Entry on Dramatic Structure: This page covers basic plot structure, including a section on rising action.
  • The Dictionary Definition of Rising Action: A basic definition.
  • 15 Genius Inciting Incidents from Cinema:This article gives a few examples of effective inciting incidents from famous films.
Rising Action

Rising Action Definition Literature

What is rising action?

You know how a story gets exciting and you want to keep turning pages to see what happens? Simply put, the events in a story plot that build that excitement are the 'rising action'.

Rising Action Definition for Kids:

Rising action is how the events in a story build excitement until they reach their most exciting point (called the 'climax'). After the rising action and climax, the story starts slowing down and wrapping up (called 'falling action'), bringing the story to an end.


Why Does a Story Need Rising Action?

In a story, the main character wants something. The plot is all about why the main character can't get what he wants right away and how he keeps trying to get it. Rising action is when the story builds as the character keeps facing obstacles and trying to overcome them.
Rising action is the in the story because stories need some sort of conflict to be interesting. The main character can’t just get what he wants right away because the story would be boring, and very short.
Rising Action works along with Climax and Falling Action to make a story flow. This story structure pyramid is how an author gets readers caught up in the events of the story, keeps readers interested, and then helps them emotionally feel like the story came to an end.

Rising Action Definition in Images

Freytag's Pyramid Image

This image simplifies Freytag's pyramid for kids, showing children how dramatic stories are often structured. This simplified version of the story structure pyramid is based on our Super Easy Storytelling Formula.

Identify Rising Action Worksheet

To help students understand what rising action is and how it affects the structure of a story, try this free printable worksheet on Identifying rising action in a story.

Rising action definition- Example

Let’s use this basic story formula and a really simplified story to show what rising action is:

A lizard + wants to be a rockstar + but he can’t sing
{Beginning of the story, a.k.a The Exposition. Introduce main character and set up the story} A tall, florescent green lizard stood admiring his shimmering form in the mirror. Running his bulbous fingers through is wild, blue hair he popped himself into a dance pose he was sure would get the audience screaming. He was born to be a rockstar-- with one teensy problem. The only thing making people scream was his awful singing. When Lizard (he pronounced is Liz- arggh, kind of like a pirate), opened his mouth, the noise that came out had people screaming for him to stop. If he was going to be the rockstar he knew he was born to be, he needed to learn how to sing.
{Middle of the story, a.k.a Rising Action. Add conflict and action.} One day while he was browsing through cds at the record store, Lizarggh overheard some rockers talking about a secret grotto at the top of Rockopolis Mountain. Legend says that anyone who drinks from the dark pool in the grotto instantly gains a voice as smooth and deep as its waters. Lizzarggh knew what he had to do. He laced up his combat boots, slipped a power bar in his satchel, and started climbing.
{Add a twist of more Rising Action until the Climax} After hours of hacking his way through brush and struggling over boulders, the tip of the grotto peaked above the next hill. With a rush of renewed energy, Lizzargh took off, bounding over rocks until they felt like they were shaking loose under the impact of his feet. Wow, he must have some strong feet, he thought, because they were really starting to tumble now. Oh no! He realized Rockopolis Mountain was really rocking! It was an earthquake shaking loose the stones. He leaped and grabbed for a tree branch, and swung his legs up to capture the bough. He popped his suction cup fingers into action keeping a death grip on the branch.
{Add Falling Action} Finally, the leaves stopped shaking, the ground settled, and Lizzargh lowered one toe, gently nudging the rock beneath him to check for stability. No rocking. No rolling. He straightened is leather jacket, shook his blue hair back into a stylishly wild disarray, and sprinted up the mountain like a pack of biker lizards were after him.
{The End, a.k.a Denouement. Wrap up the action and create resolution} He should have been wary. He should have been careful. But blame it on the rocking and rolling of that mountain, Lizzargh was too amped to hold back. He dove in and gulped down the silky water. He rose above the surface, flung his sodden locks out of his eyes, and wailed his highest note. It was awesome. It soared. It rocked and it rolled. He was going to make it. Finally he could be the rockstar he was born to be.

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