The Forsyth Triangle
I have developed a diagram to help my writing students understand the basic narrative arc of stories and I’m going to share it with you all today – though if you are going to share it with anyone else please make sure you credit me!
It is based on Freytag’s Triangle, developed by the German dramatist Gustav Freytag who studied Aristotle’s Poetics. Freytag divided a drama into five parts which he named:
Exposition – Rising Action – Climax – Falling Action – Denouement
I have combined his theories with the idea of a three-act structure often used by playwrights and screenwriters.
- Exposition – background information – characters, scene, & situation – a scene that shows the normal life of the protagonist
- Inciting Incident – the catalyst that begins the major conflict – a problem or complication to be solved – the point at which normal life is changed
- Rising Action – a series of conflicts and crises – obstacles to overcome, ordeals to undergo, lessons to be learnt, revelations to be understood
- Crisis – a crucial or decisive moment in the story that has a powerful effect on the protagonist – a turning point
- Midpoint Reversal – the middle of the story, where it seems all is lost and the hero cannot go on – it often marks a movement from one place to another, whether physical, spiritual or emotional
- Climax – the turning point of the action, when tension reaches its height. The point in which the hero must not only face – and defeat – his enemy, but also his greatest fear
- Resolution – the final stage, where questions are answered and problems solved
- Falling Action – the action following the climax that moves the story towards its end – it is usually much shorter than the previous series of events
- Denouement – comes from the old French, and means to ‘untie the knot’. The final scene when all is well – ‘the feast scene’
Understanding the basic narrative arc of a story can help you make sure your story does not sag in the middle, fizzle out at the end or drone on for too long at the beginning (the most common mistakes I see in manuscripts!)