Rising Action in Novels

In the second post of our 5-part series on plot development in fiction, we cover Rising action.

Part 2: What is Rising Action

Rising Action in Novels | Lessons from Sholay

Right after you’ve introduced your characters and the situation (the point where your story opens, in this case) the next logical step for you to do as a writer is to introduce the conflict or the complexity in the story. Typically rising action are these events in your story that take place after the exposition and are the series of dramatic events that lead to the climax (point of maximum tension).

Let’s take the example of the Hans Christian Anderson story, one that we are all familiar with, The Emperor’s New Clothes.

In the exposition of the story, the Emperor is introduced as a man who is obsessed with new clothes and as a man who idles away his time without caring for his subjects. He spends his time dressing up and showing off his new clothes.

The conflict or the complexity that is introduced is this:

One day two swindlers came to the emperor’s city. They said that they were weavers, claiming that they knew how to make the finest cloth imaginable. Not only were the colors and the patterns extraordinarily beautiful, but in addition, this material had the amazing property that it was to be invisible to anyone who was incompetent or stupid.

This event (which then leads to a chain of other events) is the primary Rising Action of the story – the point where conflict and complexity is introduced into the narrative.

Rising Action in Novels Versus Rising Action in Short Stories

Rising Action in Novels

In novels writers have a large canvas. It is a larger scope and owing to this factor the time-investment by readers is larger.

Let’s do the math. In a novel, you’re looking at roughly 250 pages. The climax might come in at the 200th page and the exposition would have / should have ended by the 10th or the 20th page. (Some people might argue that exposition should last for about 2 pages, but there is nothing sacrosanct about these things.) Can you see where I getting to? You need about 180 pages of Rising Action!

Let’s understand this using the popular movie Sholay as an example. A retired policeman hires small-time thieves to capture or kill the dreaded dacoit – Gabbar Singh. In my opinion all of this amounts to exposition – the necessary background information for the action to begin.

Some might argue that exposition ends at introducing the characters of Jai and Veeru. Even if we were to go by that, the rising action begins with the primary complexity – setting the mission of sending small-time thieves to capture the dacoit.

Can we agree that the climax is Jai and Veeru’s confrontation with Gabbar and the subsequent death of Jai? All the scenes in the movie that lead to this confrontation then become the Rising Action.

Consider the events that take place. Once the mission has been understood and agreed by the protagonists they encounter the following dramatic events:

Dramatic Event 1: Jai and Veeru thwart Gabbar’s men

Dramatic Event 2: Gabbar is angered (Remember kitne aadmi the?) and attacks the village on Holi. The truth about the Thakur’s arms is revealed.

Dramatic Event 3: Capture of Veeru and Basanti leading Jai to the scene

(Oh Sholay fantatics – whatever other event that I might have missed by error, please forgive, please forgive)

These dramatic events make up the Rising Action in a movie like Sholay.

Novels are similar in scope and therefore rising action is a series of events that lead to the climax. It begins with a single event that triggers a chain of events.

Rising Action in Short Stories

The rising action in short stories may amount to just one or two events. By ‘event’ I mean that something happens.

In the example we have above from The Emperor’s New Clothes, note that I’ve characterized the swindlers’ offer of sewing fine garments that will be invisible to unworthy, incompetent and stupid people as the primary event. This is because, it is the first event that alters the story.

Subsequent events follow:

Dramatic Event 1: Swindles ask for pure gold and silk and hide it away

Dramatic Event 2: Ministers and officials, one after the other from the Emperor’s court visit the swindler’s work area and see that there is NOTHING on the loom but in a bid to be considered worthy pretend to see fine cloth

Dramatic Event 3: They prepare for the procession in which the Emperor has to wear his new clothes for the entire kingdom to see

As you probably see these events are characterized by quicker, shorter events. The number of such events are smaller in short stories.

Just to do the comparative math, the average short story might be about ten pages. You might introduce the climax at the 7th or 8th page and the exposition ends at page 1. You have about 6-7 pages of Rising action.

Remember in whichever form you are writing in (novel or short story), the rising action will eventually culminate into the climax.

Remember that Rising Action:

  1. Changes the current situation
  2. Is new Information
  3. Creates tension
  4. Builds Suspense / Drama
  5. Moves the story towards climax
  6. Aids in the development of character (how characters react to conflict and change with circumstances)

I’ve used Sholay as an example because most readers might be familiar with the story and its appeal. Further one can visualize the scenes.

Do you have some fabulous examples from literature about Rising Action? We’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment.

About Lavanya

Lavanya Shanbhogue-Arvind | MBA | Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Special Prize (2011) | MFA in Creative Writing programme (City University of Hong Kong) | Her literary fiction novel will be published soon by Roli Books.

2 thoughts on “Rising Action in Novels”

  1. Das

    Hi Sameer & Lavanya,

    What a wonderful website and forum you have created! I can see that many people have benefited from your timely assistance and advice. Kudos to both of you.

    I would like to know about the economic realities of being a full time author. If one is observant, then you notice that there are just a few authors (Chetan Bhagat, Amish Tripathi, et al) out there who have made it big or even making a fruitful living out of it. But, what about the mid level folks who toil away? Who for years remain in a steady state of nose above water success. Since living has it’s own economic realities and obligations, how does one place in perspective the life of a full time author? Passion can wane in the face of monthly bills and surprise expenses. I know I’m sounding jaded; It’s because I’m torn between taking up writing full time or continuing with my 9 to 6 job.

    I do have writing experience, in that, I am a marketing communications writer. However, being a novelist, I know is a different ball game with it’s own rules and rigors.

    A link to an online article does throw some light on this.

    http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/books/features/Can-Indian-authors-afford-to-pursue-writing-as-a-full-time-career/articleshow/29993883.cms

    However, any advice from your side – both objective and subjective would definitely help.

    Thanks in advance.

    Warm regards,

    Das

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