The Five Act Structure

The Five Act Structure
July 19, 2016 2 Comments For Authors, Writing Advice J.K. Allen

Last week we looked at the Three Act Structure in this series about story structure. This week let’s look at the Five Act Structure. The Five Act Structure, also known as Freytag’s Pyramid, is a story structure commonly used when we look at things like Shakespeare’s plays. It divides stories into five acts; exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement. Let’s take a closer look.

The first act, or exposition, is where the characters, story world, and story problem are introduced. It ends in the inciting incident which launches the story forward. We get a glimpse at the normal world for your protagonist before everything changes in the inciting incident.

Next is the rising action, which is a series of events that occur that build up to the climax of your story. The protagonist begins to work towards their goal, working to overcome the obstacles put in their way. Each obstacle is progressively worse for the protagonist to overcome. They are reacting to the situation the antagonist is putting them in.

The third act is the climax. This is the highest, most exciting event in your story. This is where your protagonist and antagonist go head to head in direct conflict with each other. This is where your protagonist ultimately fails or succeeds based on their direct actions. This is where they act instead of react to face the antagonist. If the story is a tragedy, the protagonist fails because of his fatal flaw.

The fourth act is the falling action. This is the where you have the consequences and reactions to what happened in the climax. This act ends in the resolution, where the problem at the heart of the story is solved.

The final act, or denouement, is where all loose ends are tied up and we get a glimpse of the new normal for the characters.

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One criticism of this story structure is that the climax occurs at the midpoint of the story, earlier than in other story structures, but many stories can be plotted using this method. What do you think of the Five Act Structure? Comment below and happy writing.


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J.K. Allen Julia Allen received her BA in Creative Writing and English from Michigan State University. She did her senior thesis in poetry under the tutelage of Diane Wakoski, but has been focused primarily on fiction as of late. Common writing themes that can be found in her work address identity and the type of strength that can be found in ordinary people. Julia is currently working on a Young Adult fantasy novel and can be found at local cafes in her hometown when writing, and painting, drawing, or reading when not.

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