Writing 101: The Diagram of a Story

I still remember the day I saw this diagram put up on the blackboard in English class. This is the formula of writing a story….or so they say. Is this what the diagram of a story looks like to you -- and every author in the world?

The Sum of Its Parts

This diagram is actually known as Freytag's pyramid, and it represents the five parts (or acts) of a dramatic arc. You can find this pyramid in a lot of storytelling, from books to movies.

  • Exposition: The introduction. This is where you introduce your characters and lay out the setting. You also set up the conflict and action here.
  • Rising action: Stuff starts to happen. We know who the bad guy is now, and we know what obstacles we have to overcome. 
  • Climax: Dramatic conclusion to the conflict
  • Falling action: The aftermath of the drama.
  • Denouement: The end of the story.

The dramatic arc is pretty simple when you break it down into parts like this...but not all stories are this simple to tell. Not all stories follow this pattern, in fact. Some stories start off with the action in progress, then go back and tell you more about the characters later. Some stories are cliffhangers that end at the height of the drama -- at the climax.

Following a formula like this is a good way to get comfortable with storytelling, but there are no rules in writing. You don’t have to follow Freytag’s pyramid or anyone else’s diagram, either. When you’re writing, follow your own advice and develop your own patterns. Part of finding your own voice as a writer means finding your own way to tell a story. Maybe that means following this standard diagram...and maybe, it doesn’t.

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