Narrative Writing


Rising Action (1)

In a well-constructed story, the events (A, B, C, D, E, etc.) are causal. Event B cannot happen unless event A happens. Event C cannot happen unless events A and B happen. Readers have a powerful desire to read what will happen next because they expect the events they have witnessed to have repercussions. The cause-and-effect nature of the events makes for a finely-woven tapestry. When readers say a story is "tight" or critics say a story is "not tight enough" they are referring to the cause-and-effect relationship.

               â€” James N. Frey, How to Write a Damn Good Novel

In the middle part of your story, you'll describe the steps that your hero takes to try to achieve her goal.

Make sure these events are related by cause and effect. Each event should be a reaction to a previous event. And, ideally, each event should put your hero deeper into trouble.

Writers have a name for this: It's called rising action. Rising action is the idea that each event (in the middle part of your story) should make the reader more nervous, more anxious, and more worried that your hero may not achieve her goal.

Graphically, rising action is often drawn as a series ascending peaks:

Here is a classic example of rising tension:

Your hero (let's call him Jake) is investigating a murder. He finds a clue that brings him to a certain address. The house is dark and nobody answers the door. Jakes walks around to the back of the house, looking for a way to break in. He's certain that he will find some evidence inside.

Jake crawls through an open window and starts poking around. Then he gets to the bedroom—and freezes. A dead body lies on the floor, blood oozing from a gunshot to the head. A gun lies on the dresser. Jake touches the barrel to see if it's still warm.

Just then, cop cars screech to a halt in the driveway, lights flashing, and a moment later, Jake is surrounded by police officers, their weapons drawn and pointed at him.


Jake tries to explain, but of course, no one believes him. He's placed under arrest for suspicion of murder. And when the murder weapon comes back from the lab, Jakes' fingerprints will be all over it . . .

Your hero had a goal: to discover the identity of the murderer. And like any good hero, he took actions in pursuit of his goal. Unfortunately, his actions only made the problem worse. Someone set him up, and now he's in jail, accused of a murder he didn't commit. Now, solving this murder is even more important, because his own freedom depends on it.

He did get a look at the gun on the dresser, and that has given him a clue. But how can he pursue this lead while sitting here in jail?

"Goodness!" cries the reader. "How will Jake get out of this one? And where will this clue take him? And how will he solve the murder?" And so the reader turns the page to see what happens next.

Instructions for the Quiz

Answer the questions.