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What is Rising Action in Literature?

    what is rising action in literature

    When it comes to teaching plot, it’s important to ensure your students understand the various elements that make up a storyline, including rising action. However, it can be tricky for some students to decipher between a story’s inciting incident, rising action, and climax. Consider this your one-stop teaching guide for all things rising action.

    Rising Action Definition

    Rising action refers to the series of events in a narrative that develops the story’s conflict and leads to its climax. It is during this time when a protagonist must confront a series of challenges, obstacles, or complications as they pursue a goal or face a conflict introduced earlier in the narrative.

    In many cases, the rising action makes up the bulk of the narrative. Even stories that follow an unconventional plotline still have some sort of rising action. It’s a necessary element that drives the plot forward while increasing audience interest and investment in the story.

    Rising Action Pronunciation

    Rising action is a phrase comprised of two two-syllable words and is pronounced like: Rai-sing ak-shun

    Understanding Plot: Where Does Rising Action Come Into Play?

    A plot refers to the series of events that happens in a story. Therefore, without a plot, there really wouldn’t be much of a story. (Or, at least, not a very good one.) It’s essentially the backbone of any narrative, and is made up of various elements vital to any story. It is the driving force that propels the story forward, captivates readers’ attention, and leaves a lasting impression long after the final page has been turned.

    When it comes to teaching plot, most people refer to classic plot structure (think the plot mountain or plot witch’s hat, if those ring a bell.) This model breaks down the plot of a story into key stages, including rising action:

    • Exposition: Establishes the context of the story and provides essential information including setting, characters, and background information.
    • Inciting Incident: Sets the main conflict of the story in motion, prompting the protagonist to embark on some sort of journey.
    • Rising Action: Builds suspense as the protagonist faces obstacles, challenges, and complications, leading towards the climax.
    • Climax: The turning point of the story where the conflict reaches its peak, often resulting in a significant realization, confrontation, decision, or other outcome.
    • Falling Action: Consequences of the climax unfold as the story begins to wind down and move towards a resolution of conflict.
    • Resolution (denouement): Reveals the aftermath of all the action, drama, and decisions, providing closure to the story.

    As you can tell, the rising action plays a key role in the plot structure, really helping the events of the story move forward. It swiftly follows the inciting incident and leads directly to the climax of the story. Therefore, if you think about it, a story without rising action would have limited suspense, tension, and drama—and, let’s be honest, that’s what draws students in, right? So, we should all be thankful for rising action.

    What is the Purpose of Rising Action in a Story?

    The primary purpose of rising action is to engage readers and keep them invested in the story. Ever read a page-turner? Yup. That’s all thanks to rising action.

    Writers use rising actions as a tool to propel the plot forward. It serves as the bridge between the setup of the story and the pivotal moment where tensions reach their climax. It’s when conflicts escalate, stakes are raised, and characters are pushed to their limits—fun stuff, right?!

    By building tension and suspense, readers are drawn into the plot and build anticipation around the impending climax and resolution. The rising action is often packed with action (thanks to the name, there’s no surprise there) and driven by emotion, enhancing the overall narrative experience.

    With rising action being such an imperative aspect of any narrative, it’s no surprise it plays a role in many critical factors of good storytelling. Here are a few reasons why authors spend so much of a plot unpacking rising action:

    • Advances the Plot: Rising action drives the narrative forward bridging the gap between the inciting incident (and established conflict) and the climax. Each event in the rising action builds upon the previous one, leading to a sense of progression and momentum in the story.
    • Builds Tension and Suspense: The more challenges and obstacles that arise, the more tension and suspense the audience feels. Therefore, the rising action draws readers in as they become increasingly invested in the story’s outcome.
    • Aids in Character Development: As characters are forced to confront their fears, overcome obstacles, and make difficult choices, character development is inevitable. This is when their strengths, weaknesses, and motivations, revealed, adding a layer of depth to their characterization.
    • Increase Emotional Impact: By heightening tension and suspense, readers experience a rollercoaster of emotions as the story progresses. Readers tend to get more invested in the story as they witness characters confront obstacles, overcome challenges, and make big, often life-altering decisions.
    • Creates a Sense of Pacing and Structure: Not all rising action is chaotic and stressful. Therefore, rising action helps balance moments of tension with periods of (somewhat) calmness. This pacing keeps readers engaged and prevents the narrative from feeling too dull or too rushed.
    • Sets Up the Climax: Ultimately, the rising action sets the stage for the climax, which is the pivotal moment of the story where the central conflict reaches its peak. By carefully crafting the rising action, authors ensure that the climax  makes sense, feels “right,” and resonates with readers.

    How to Identify Rising Action in a Story

    There can be a lot going on in a story, and it may feel a bit overwhelming to identify any particular element of the plot. However, If you’re looking to identify a story’s rising action, there are a few key elements and patterns you can look out for. If you can sense the escalation of tension and conflict brewing, you’re likely entering (or in the midst of) the rising action.

    Here are several ways to identify rising action:

    1. Increasing Tension

     Look for moments in the story where the tension between characters or the intensity of the central conflict begins to rise. This tension may be subtle at first but gradually becomes more intense and obvious as the story progresses.

    2. Obstacles and Complications

    Pay attention to the obstacles and challenges that the main characters encounter on their journey. Rising action often involves the introduction of new complications (or the escalation of existing ones), adding layers of complexity to the plot.

    3. Character Responses

    Analyze how characters react and respond to the events occurring around them, especially obstacles they face. Rising action often reveals more about the characters’ motivations, fears, and desires.

    4. Plot Momentum

    Consider the story’s pacing and how events unfold over time. Rising action typically involves a gradual increase in the momentum as the story unfolds. Events start clearly building upon each other, leading towards the climax.

    5. Foreshadowing

    Keep an eye out for clues or hints dropped by the author that suggest future developments in the story. Authors employ foreshadowing during the rising action to build anticipation and suspense, hinting at the challenges or conflicts to come.

    6. Plot

    Consider the overall structure of the story and where events fall within the traditional plot arc. Rising action typically occurs after the exposition and before the climax, serving as the bridge between the start and the climax of the conflict. 

    Tips for Teaching Rising Action

    • Teach Plot Structure: Rather than teaching rising action in isolation, students will likely better grasp the concept when shown in the broader context of storytelling. This will allow students to understand how rising action shapes the narrative arc.
    • Use Graphic Organizers: Visual aids such as story maps or plot diagrams can help students visualize the progression and entire plot, including the rising action.
    • Compare Texts: Have students analyze multiple texts to identify and compare how rising action is developed across different genres, styles, and authors.
    • Work with Short Stories: Select high-interest short stories with well-defined rising action and guide students through a close analysis of how tension builds throughout the narrative, without having to dive into the complexities of a full-length narrative
    • Incorporate Pop Culture: Refer to examples of rising action from popular films, TV shows, or video games that students are familiar with to help students see its relevance beyond traditional literature.
    • Make Real-Life Connections: Bring the concept of rising action to life by discussing real-life situations or historical events involving tension and conflict, showcasing how those events lead to a climax and resolution in the real world.
    • Incorporate Storyboarding Activities: Tap into students’ creative side by encouraging them to illustrate the rising action of a narrative. Rather than simply pointing it out in a narrative, illustrating the rising action will help reinforce the concept and overall comprehension of plot structure.

    Examples of Rising Action in Literature

    1. “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins

    The inciting incident that sets the rising action in motion is when protagonist Katniss Everdeen “volunteers as tribute” to take her sister’s place as the District 12 representative in the annual Hunger Games.

    The rising action begins as Katniss prepares for the games and, ultimately, enters the arena. Throughout the games, the rising action continues to develop as Katniss forms alliances with other tributes while facing several life-or-death challenges, including starvation and extreme weather. As the Games (and rising actions) progress, tension and suspense intensify, leaving the reader rooting for Katniss and Peeta’s survival.

    This leads to the climax when Katniss and Peeta defy the Capitol’s rules in an act of defiance and rebellion.

    2. “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson

    The story begins by describing the happenings of a small, seemingly idyllic town. The inciting incident that sets the rising action in motion occurs as the townspeople gather in the town square for their annual lottery ritual.

    Once the townspeople are gathered, the rising action begins. Tensions rise as, one by one, the townspeople draw slips of paper from the black box. Things get really intense when the Hutchinson family is revealed as the “winning family.” As Tessie, the mother, begins to question the fairness of the selection, readers begin to sense something is not adding up. Suspense builds as the family then goes through the next stage of the selection process, where Tessie ultimately pulls the “winning ticket.” She immediately bursts out, protesting the entire tradition.

    The story takes a shocking twist when the horrifying truth behind the town’s lottery is revealed. The reader realizes that the winner, Tessie, is not rewarded for being selected but stoned to death by her neighbors, friends, and family.

    Check out my complete analysis packet for “The Lottery.”

    3. “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” by J.K. Rowling

    The story is really set into motion when Harry (finally) receives his letter from Hogwarts, despite various attempts to prevent him from getting his official invitation to the school for wizards. Not only is this is official invitation to Hogwarts, the main setting of the story, but it is also the moment he realizes (and Hagrid confirms) he is, in fact, a wizard. 

    The rising action is set into motion as soon as Harry sets off for Hogwarts, where, despite being a “star student,” things don’t seem to always go in his favor—as if someone is out to get him. He ultimately uncovers the mystery surrounding the immortality-granting Sorcerer’s Stone. In an attempt to prevent the stone from being stolen (and getting into the wrong hands), he and his fellow wizards, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, encounter various obstacles, experience a handful of setbacks, and face a few foes. 

    The story reaches its climax during a game of Quidditch when it seems that Professor Snape has placed a hex on Harry. Ultimately, the audience realizes that Snape is trying to protect Harry against Professor Quirrell, who is being controlled by Lord Voldemort. This scene reveals who has really been after the stone (cough cough, Lord Voldemort).

    Additional Resources for Teaching Plot Structure and Rising Action

    Keep students organized with my free editable plot diagram template.

    Explore the plots of engaging short stories using done-for-you resources, like The Monkey’s Paw short story analysis and the Veldt short story analysis.

    Read this post for more tips on teaching plot using short stories.

    Help your students understand rising action with the following videos:

    Take a closer look at rising action with detailed examples from Romeo and Juliet

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