What is Freytag’s Pyramid?
Freytag’s Pyramid was devised in the 19th century by German novelist and playwright, Gustav Freytag, and is a paradigm of dramatic structure that outlines five key steps of successful storytelling. It is sometimes called Freytag’s Triangle and inspires good storytelling that can be applied to various aspects of writing and business branding.
It is also sometimes referred to as an expanded version of Aristotle’s three-act. Aristotle, who was the originator of the dramatic structure from his work Poetic, stipulated that any story could be broken down into parts, these parts he considered as the beginning, the middle, and the end were elements for effective storytelling.
Over time, various philosophers expounded on Aristotle’s dramatic structure, and Horace expanded on it that a play should have a minimum of five acts. Gustav Freytag furthermore developed on Horace’s five-act concept to what is now known as the Freytag’s Pyramid.
Dramatic structures are the patterns that most writers use to create organized and understandable stories that ensure the plot progress for easy understanding by readers.
When we hear or read a story, we like it to follow a sequence of chronological order that unfolds the events that bring us to the meaning of the story at the end. Freytag built a dramatic structure using a simple triangle that highlights five parts of storytelling:
- The exposition
- The rising action
- The climax
- The falling action
Below is an illustration of Freytag’s Pyramid structure.
The exposition, which is also known as the introduction forms the first movement with a flat line. It is the section where the storyteller prepares the scene and the background of the characters, the setting, and the conflict that is central to the story’s dominant tone, and establishes all. It should build the story’s world to make it familiar for the readers.
The exposition should be able to inform any reader of what the story is all about simply by reading it.
The length of the introduction depends largely on the complexity of the world you are introducing to your readers. It could take a few pages or a few chapters. Whatever the length, be certain to draw your readers in because they need to know at this point if your story is worth investing their time in.
This refers to the part of the plot where the story begins to heat up and rises. The story builds with a complication of the challenge that the character tries to solve. A moment of initial dramatic event or conflict can also be the inciting incident where the main character reacts to an action that begins a chain reaction of events.
The rising action could be an urge psychologically that was built on the character’s history, or something obvious like a murder that eventually kicks off a series of murder mysteries, or perhaps a tiny thing that sets off a chain of reaction.
This is the action that signifies the protagonist’s decision to take action that could be a wrong decision that overcomes the emerging central conflict. It usually takes up a lot of narrative space and could sound overburdened, but the trick is to keep the pace even between the inciting incident and gradually build toward the climax.
The climax is often the longest part of the book, it reveals new information, throws in more obstacles and exacerbates tensions, both old and new.
This is the big moment and the top point of Freytag’s pyramid. The story reaches its point of highest tension and conflict between the antagonist and the protagonist or between the evil and good sides of the main character. It is the point of foregrounding, enacting, and partially resolving the central conflict.
Nothing has to be the same at this point, it can be good or bad depending on the tone of your story. Where it is an optimistic story, the protagonist begins to triumph from the previous challenges, and if it is a tragic tale, then the protagonist begins sinking towards doom. If you find your characters and dynamics are still the same after your climax, then something went wrong with your climax.
It is pertinent to have a good climax and to master it, as this is vital for fiction. Also, the climax does not have to be about fights and struggles, they are also moments of profound change. The idea of Freytag’s climax is that the events of the story have built to a head, and not that it is over.
This is where the story spirals to action from the climax and events are changed for better or worse as a result thereof. It describes the immediate events that occur and how they occur after your climax. The protagonist mostly finds themselves far from overcoming the central conflict.
Falling action represents a reversal in the story after the climax. In classical tragedies, the protagonist who had fortunes begins to suffer from a downfall in wealth, which leaves the reader unsure of how the protagonist will fare.
It occupies a tension high space with the central conflict being resolved assuredly but steadily into focus. It could feel like tedious work writing the falling action, as you want to keep the reader engaged while slowing the pace of the story.
Freytag believed that the challenges or heights of catastrophe should not be a secret to the reader, instead, there should be that moment of suspense where the events could possibly be reversed. This is called the “force of suspense”, it seals the ending of your story and gives readers heads-up for what is to happen next.
The denouement, a French word for ‘ending/unknotting’ is the point where everything is untangled, the conflicts are resolved, uncertainties are explained, and the story goals are achieved or not.
The denouement often ends happily if it is a comedy, or in a sad, depressing way if it’s a tragedy. But there should be an event that allows the dramatic tension to ease, for the characters to accept and settle into their new circumstances.
When writing your story, the denouement should wrap up everything nicely that soothes, rewards, or punishes the characters according to the story plot. It should also reassure and calm the readers after the excitement of the climax.
As most writing coaches prefer to suggest the three-act structure for writing as a solid foundation, Freytag’s Pyramid shows specific ways that are easier to apply to your fiction.
The three-act structure of beginning, middle, and end, can be a bit vague and does not inform when things should escalate or wind down in your story. Freytag answers the question of what needs to happen for the beginning to become the middle, and the movement the tension of the story has to undergo to get to the different stages.
ADVANTAGES OF USING FREYTAG’S PYRAMID
Freytag’s pyramid is one of the most widely used plot structures that have the following advantages for both writers and readers:
- It actively guides the readers to understand the characters and the setting of the story.
- Makes the story relatable to readers.
- Gives sufficient time to readers to acclimatize and empathize with the characters.
- It allows for better organization of thoughts, and ideas of the writer.
- It isolates the main problem of the story and emphasizes the key elements and scenes.
- It is a useful outlining tool for storytelling and identifies the places to add details and where to add them.
- It gives room for detailed attention to figure out pacing and continuity.
In conclusion, there are several dramatic structures, therefore, it is up to you as the writer to choose what is best for you when fleshing out your story. These structures are to help speed up your writing and make your narrative outstanding.
Also of note, is that these structures do not determine outright success for your book when used. So when you decide to use any, do not be afraid to modify and make changes that enhance your story.