Every story, whether told through literature or film, thrives on the rising action—the heartbeat of any compelling narrative. As an aspiring writer or storyteller, mastering this element can transform your work from simple text or scenes into a captivating journey. 

In this article, we’ll explore how to craft this crucial component, drawing lessons from both mediums. Let’s dive into the art of escalating tension and suspense that keeps audiences hooked.

Watch: 3-Act Structure Explained

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What is Rising Action in Story

First, let’s define rising action

Before we dive into the importance of rising action and how to create it, let's delve into what this term actually means in the realms of literature and film by looking at the rising action definition.


What is rising action in story?

In storytelling, rising action refers to a series of events that create suspense, interest, and tension in a narrative. In both literature and film, it's the part of the story following the introduction or setup, where conflicts become more intense and stakes get higher. This sequence of events leads up to the climax, the turning point of the story. In essence, the rising action is the journey that characters must undertake, filled with challenges and obstacles, which not only drives the plot forward but also serves to develop characters and engage the audience's emotions.

What is Rising Action Composed Of?

  • Conflict: The plot's driving struggle
  • Complications: Obstacles heightening tension
  • Character Development: Revealing character traits
  • Climax Build-Up: Building anticipation for the climax

What is Rising Action in Story Used For?

The importance of rising action

Rising action is a crucial component of any compelling narrative, whether it's in literature or film. It's the sequence of events that builds up the tension and suspense in the story, leading to the climax. Without rising action, a story would lack depth and fail to engage the audience effectively.

The rising action is where the main character or characters face conflicts and complications that challenge them and reveal their traits. It's through these struggles that we, as the audience, become invested in their journey. We share their hopes, fears, and anticipation — all feelings that are heightened during the rising action. In a three-act structure, the rising action leads to the climax.

What is Rising Action in a Story Understanding Rising and Falling Action

Understanding Rising and Falling Action

Moreover, the rising action sets the stage for the climax, the turning point of the story. It's like the long climb on a roller coaster before the thrilling drop; the build-up enhances the impact of the climax.

In essence, the importance of rising action lies in its ability to deepen the plot, develop characters, and maintain audience interest, making it an indispensable tool in storytelling.

What Does Rising Action Mean in Story?

Components of rising action

The components of rising action — conflict, complications, character development, and climax build-up — are essential elements that create a narrative arc and propel the story toward its peak. Let’s analyze each component further.

Conflict and Rising Action

The conflict, the fundamental struggle or problem that propels the story, is the fuel for the rising action. Without a conflict, there's no trigger for the sequence of events that form the rising action. This could be internal or external conflict, setting the stage for the escalating tension.

In The Lord of the Rings, the conflict is established when Frodo Baggins inherits the One Ring and must destroy it in Mount Doom. This conflict sets off the entire journey — the rising action — filled with battles, alliances, and perilous journeys that lead to the climax.

What is Rising Action in a Story Lord of the Rings Rising action examples

Lord of the Rings  •  Rising action examples

Complications and Rising Action

Complications in the plot are essentially the stepping stones of the rising action. They are the challenges and obstacles that characters face, intensifying the conflict and adding layers to the story. These complications heighten the suspense and keep the audience engaged, contributing to the mounting tension of the rising action.

Complications intensify the rising action by adding layers of problems for characters. In George Orwell's 1984, Winston Smith faces complications such as constant surveillance, a forbidden love affair, and the pursuit of rebellion against Big Brother. These complications escalate the tension in the story, driving the rising action.

Character Development and Rising Action

During the rising action, characters are pushed by the conflict and its complications, leading to character development and character arcs. As these traits, strengths, and weaknesses are revealed, they add depth to the rising action. The struggles that characters go through during this phase make them more relatable, enhancing the audience's connection to the rising action.

This video breaks down the ways to write a character arc through rising action. 

"Positive Change" Character Arcs Explained  •  Subscribe on YouTube

Character development contributes to the rising action by showing how characters react to conflicts and complications. In example of rising action in literature can be found in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout Finch matures significantly through the rising action. As she witnesses racial injustice, her understanding of her town and its inhabitants deepens, adding emotional depth to the rising action.

Climax Build-Up and Rising Action

The build-up to the climax is the pinnacle of the rising action. It's a gradual increase in tension and stakes leading up to the story's turning point. The effectiveness of the rising action directly impacts the intensity of the climax, making the audience anticipate the outcome. This build-up is where the rising action reaches its peak before the story takes its critical turn.

No Country for Old Men effectively uses rising action to build up to its climax. The tension escalates as Llewelyn Moss, having found a suitcase full of money at a crime scene, is pursued by the relentless Anton Chigurh and Mexican gangsters, leading to an unexpected climax. 

This video analysis by Lessons from the Screenplay breaks down the rising action examples in the film and how the rising action is delivered to the audience for the climactic build. 

No Country for Old Men  •  Don't Underestimate the Audience

This narrative demonstrates how rising action can skillfully drive a story towards its peak, layering complexity with each event and character reaction.

To recap, the components of rising action — conflict, complications, character development, and climax build-up — work together to create a compelling narrative that engages the audience, driving the story forward to its climactic moment and beyond.

How to Write Rising Action

Mistakes in writing rising action

Crafting the rising action of a story is a delicate process, and it's not uncommon for writers to encounter pitfalls along the way. Here are some common mistakes and tips on how to avoid them:

Overcomplicating the Plot 

While complications add depth to the rising action, too many can confuse readers and dilute the main conflict. 

Tip: Keep the plot focused and ensure each complication contributes to the overall narrative arc.

Neglecting Character Development 

Learning how to write rising action isn't just about writing events; it's about how characters react to those events. If characters remain static, the rising action can feel flat.

Good Will Hunting is a great example of a film that uses the psychology of a character as well as their relationships to build the rising action while also revealing character traits. This is shown in the first time Will opens up to Sean.

Good Will Hunting  •  Rising action examples

Tip: Use the rising action as an opportunity for character growth and development.

Rushing the Climax 

The rising action builds anticipation for the climax. If the story rushes to the climax without sufficient build-up, it can leave readers feeling unsatisfied. 

Tip: Take time to craft a well-paced rising action that gradually increases tension and stakes.

Ignoring Subplots 

Subplots can enrich a story by adding layers of complexity. However, if they're introduced without being woven into the rising action, they can distract from the main plot. 

Tip: Ensure subplots contribute to the rising action and tie into the main plot.

Hidden Figures  •  The Power of Subplots

Failing to Escalate Tension

The rising action should progressively increase tension, leading up to the climax. If the tension remains constant or decreases, the story may lose momentum. 

Tip: Continually up the stakes for your characters during the rising action to maintain reader interest.

By avoiding these common pitfalls, writers can craft a compelling rising action that drives their story forward and keeps readers engaged.

Rising action is essential as it propels the narrative forward, building momentum towards the climax. It not only heightens the reader's anticipation and interest but also provides a framework for significant character development and plot progression.

Up Next

What is Story Structure?

Having explored the nuances of crafting a compelling rising action, let's now delve into a broader perspective and understand how it fits into the overall story structure, which we will discuss in detail in our next article.

Up Next: Story Structure Breakdown →
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