Plot Diagram: Freytag’s Pyramid
German novelist Gustav Freytag created a diagram to illustrate dramatic structure. While his original intent focused on drama, Freytag’s pyramid is also useful for mapping the action in short stories and novels.
Exposition: The part of the narrative structure in which the scene is set, characters introduced, and the situation established. It usually falls at the beginning of the book, but additional exposition is often scattered throughout the work.
Rising Action: The part of the plot structure in which events complicate or intensify the conflict, or introduce additional conflict.
Climax: The turning point in fiction; the transition from rising to falling action.
Falling Action: The portion of plot structure, usually following the climax, in which the problems encountered during the rising action are solved.
Denouement: Resolution or conclusion; sometimes called catastrophe.
Freytag’s five-part model focuses on a man against man storyline that features a protagonist (hero) and antagonist. A drama is then divided into five parts, or acts that form what can be described as a dramatic arc: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement.
Dramatic action centers on the deeds of the protagonist and antagonist, with a play/counter-play structure. For each character, each rise is followed by a fall, culminating in a climax in which one of the contending parties triumphs.
Freytag’s Pyramid is useful not only for organizing thoughts and ideas when writing a story or play. It’s also helpful for students who are writing about literature, as it provides a commonly understood framework and vocabulary for describing plot elements and story structure.
Definitions adapted from the Excellence in Literature Glossary.
You might also be interested in Literary Analysis: Elements of Narrative.