Poetics Serendipity: Meet Freytag

14 Nov

8:03 a.m. — Atlanta

listening to Light My Fire sung by Jose Feliciano

Hullo, all. Ready for some discourse? Grab your coffee mug. I am going to go on the assumption no one has heard of Mr. Freytag, or they have long forgotten they knew.

In the early 1800’s, Freytag published a definitive study of the narrative structure of the five-act play, about the time it was going out of fashion. Freytag’s Pyramid, as it is known, has since been found to work for plays of any number of acts, as well as novels and short stories. The pyramid may no longer be of three equal sides, but its premise underpins the narrative structure of 98% of fiction.

I know that many of you, who are writing for NaNoWriMo, are working on the novel where the rest of you are working on a novel. [Some of you are just masochists] How does Freytag’s Pyramid help you, the budding novelist? It gives you the map for laying out the skeleton of your narrative and a means of checking your material to make sure your plot is not lost in a maze.

Here are the components, as developed and revamped for lit analysis:

The exposition: tells us what it is we need to know to understand what is about to happen in the greater story. The exposition often has the inciting incident within it.

Inciting incident: begins the conflict. In something as long as a novel there are many conflicts. The majority should tie to the main character’s main conflict, the one she is trying to resolve.

Rising action: contains the main conflict and other conflicts that propel the plot towards the climactic moment.

Climactic moment: when first developed this occurred at the pinnacle of the pyramid. It’s still the pinnacle, but the arm of rising action is often longer than the falling action, so that the pyramid is lopsided.

The climactic moment usually involves the highest moment of tension. More importantly, it’s the moment when the protagonist makes the decision to do, or nor do, something to resolve their main conflict [Got that one? It’s the most important point.]

Falling action: the movement towards the resolution of the conflict, as a direct result of the decision made by the main character.

Resolution: does not necessarily mean the problem is solved, but it is resolved.

If you don’t know where to go next with your novel, check it against Freytag. Do you have everything? If you feel that your novel is a structural disaster, put it to the Freytag test.

I shall see you tomorrow for the week’s roundup of prompts; next Tuesday for a narrative prompt revolving around eating; and next Thursday for approaches to narrative structure, which covers techniques.

Happy writing, all.

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Posted by on 14/11/2013 in writing


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