Monday, December 12, 2011

Rising Action

RISING ACTION ~ a related series of incidents in a literary plot that build toward the point of greatest interest.

In other words, all of your character's hard work to get to the point where (s)he wins or loses. You've probably seen one of those graphs up above, or something similar. We're only focusing on rising action, that arrow pointing right to the upwards climb.

Which is what rising action really is - a climb. The beginning introduces your character and gets the reader excited about them, but your character has to keep up the hard work and keep the reader interested. You cannot skip straight to the climax. That is really important, because of three reasons.

ONE, rising action helps your reader know your character better. If you introduce Mary Sue as a fun loving redhead, and all of a sudden you drop her into this epic fight scene and she's grimly hacking off the evil king's head, you and the reader are going to be confused. What? When did sweet little Mary Sue learn how to use a sword, let alone gather the guts to kill someone? Your entire story turns into this muddied, confusing, random jumble of scenes. Because, although your climax is super important, so is the rising action that gets her to that point. The key to preventing this is to take your time and introduce smaller conflicts. Start with introducing Mary Sue, then have her meet the evil king who immediately takes a disliking to her and her ragtag team of friends (not forgetting to introduce her friends, as well). He tries to smite them immediately and fails, and some of the nobles around him notice just how crazy and evil His Majesty truly is. They join up with Mary Sue, one of them teaches her how to use a sword, another gives this wise lecture on how sometimes, hurting one person is best for all the people. Finally, you can have them traveling back to the castle, where now you can have the epic fight scene.

TWO, the rising action makes up quite a bit, if not most, of the story. You cannot really suspend an introduction to the character, a climax, and tying up some loose knots without missing a pretty big chunk in the middle (including the loose knots that you're supposedly tying up). The rising action is that section between the beginning and end that you always imagine as bigger than the other two (or if you're math-inclined, that line that connects the two dots). It supports the entire story. You remember how Mary Sue was confusing if you simply dropped her into the highest point? (You'd better.) Notice how I took longer to describe the rising action than it did to describe that climax. Without the rising action, your story is a bunch of rocks sticking up from a stream bed. With it, your story is the stream, and the wildlife and greenery on its banks, along with those rocks.

THREE, everyone knows that it's the journey that matters. It's not the destination. So don't rush to get there. Have your angsty main character Zane relax and listen, or do something heroic, like risk his life for a peasant five year old. Watching him change and grow as a person is usually more entertaining than him defeating his father. When you connect with a character, it's more than just his battles, or just his looks, or just his job. You connect with his thoughts, his feelings, his view on life. The same goes for a girl, and this is a common place for your FMC to go whiny. You find a way to show their hidden traits, their ability to flex their stubborn ways into something gentler and more heroic. 

So, that's the importance of them. How do you write good rising action?

The key is to watch your pace. It naturally flows faster at a fight scene or a tense moment. But you have to slow down and describe the details occasionally, especially on internal conflict if you're writing romance. You don't always think fast and you're not always filled with adrenaline. You need a balance between these smaller events. 

Another thing is that your character generally needs to be getting stronger. If they're getting weaker, then you're going to back your character into a corner with no way around his/her enemies. Mary Sue unwittingly gathered allies to support her, and they help her to think stronger and deadlier so she can chop off that king's head. If Zane goes from this powerful minister's son to starving in some dungeon, and then climbs into daylight and immediately faces his father, it's not hard to guess who'll win.

Small events + stronger character + good pacing = (somewhat) decent rising action. Of course, there are plenty of other things to focus on, but these are the basics, I hope. If I forgot something (because I can't think of anything else at the moment), please let me know. 

To recap, rising action is the climbing middle of your story that supports pretty much everything. You cannot skip it. So, keep on with your writing, don't forget your small, well-paced events, and have a blessed day. :)


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