6 Tips for Writing Your Story's Rising Action
Chapter 6 “Plot Points” – Section 4 “Rising Action”
“K'Nuckles: Disappointment is the best adventure!
Flapjack: It is?
K'Nuckles: Do you feel all hollow inside?
K'Nuckles: Wished you'd stayed in bed this morning?
Flapjack: A little...
K'Nuckles: Ever felt that way before?
-The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack by Mark Van Orman
Welcome to Act II of your story! You're now on a solid course towards the adventure that your story was made for—set into motion by all your careful planning in the previous Act. Now, the first plot-point that we encounter on this leg of our journey is the Rising Action. The Rising Action is a series of adventures (or preferably misadventures) where your hero tries to reach their goal and fails, and yet grows and makes unexpected progress towards those goals. Because your hero is not yet directly dealing with the main force of antagonism that will create an increased amount of pressure later in the novel, this will likely be one of the most fun and lighthearted portions of your novel.
Tip 1: Begin by having your protagonist take steps to achieve their goals.
In Star Wars – A New Hope, the Rising Action begins immediately after the First Turning Point, when Luke's aunt and uncle are murdered by the Empire. Luke then experiences unexpected challenges and misadventures in joining Ben on his journey to rescue Leia, in meeting Han Solo and Chewy, and in learning the skills that will eventually make him a hero. Meanwhile, these efforts become steps the Luke uses to move toward his goals of learning how to be a Jedi and how to avenge his family. In your story, the hero's steps forward do not have to be as direct nor as successful as Luke's; in fact, this plot-point often forms the longest and seemingly irrelevant few chapters of a novel, with the hero feeling that their attempts are not achieving any amount of success. But as irrelevant, unsuccessful, or indirect as the steps forward may seem, make sure that your characters are moving forward situationally, emotionally, geographically or in some other way getting closer to their goals.
Tip 2. Create obstacles and challenges for your protagonist to face.
The substance of stories is a hero facing confrontation while trying to achieve their goals. While Luke's Rising Action was brief and his problems were mostly solved by others, he still faced bar fights, evaded Stormtroopers, had to jump into sewage, and had to survive a sewage monster. These challenges serve to create a sense of adventure, allows the protagonist to begin growing stronger, and lets us get to know the protagonist before the greatest pressure of the story arrives. During this segment, every victory must be fought for, winning should not come with much dignity, and luck should turn against your hero as much as possible in order to create as many of these opportunities as you can.
Tip 3: Allow your protagonist to fail, grow from failure, and become more able to deal with challenges.
Your protagonist should not be instantly adept in dealing with the challenges that they are faced with in the Inciting Incident. When Luke starts off, all of his challenges are overwhelming and the only reason that he makes it through is because of his mentor and the friends he makes along the way. But, from the mix of failures and minor success, your hero should begin to grow and gradually become the hero that they need to be. Slow growth in your character's ability to deal with challenges shows a level of realism that your readers will appreciate, creates a sort of fluid and organic change that will make your story seem more alive, and will eventually cause a powerful contrast between how incompetent your character starts out and how much they grow in the face of adversity. This earned and realistic growth will serve to make your readers think of your character as being more awesome and powerful than if they had been that strong from the beginning, and also give your readers hope that their own real-life adversity can also make them strong like your character.
Tip 4: As your protagonist grows, there should be something missing.
If your protagonist were to learn everything they need to know within the Rising Action, it would be a very short story, as they would be able to rise to any challenge they then faced later in the plot. There must be something missing in your hero's growth and progress. At this point in Star Wars, Luke becomes stronger but is still not strong enough physically or emotionally to confront Vader or to become the leader of any sort of rebellion. Your hero should similarly lack the strength they need by the end of the Rising Action. Perhaps your hero grows in fighting ability, but does not yet really believe in themselves enough to use it, or perhaps is now skilled but lacks the attribute of responsibility. The point is that the greatest challenges, tragedies, and opportunities are yet to come, and so your character's development should likewise lack a rather enormous component in order to be complete.
Tip 5: The efforts of your protagonist in the Rising Action do not have to be particularly well-aimed.
Because of the emotionally traumatizing events that happened to Luke during the First Turning Point, as well as the lies told to him by Ben Kenobi and his own family, Luke begins the story with the misguided goal of vengeance against the Vader, who he had been told killed his father. This goal is created by Luke's not knowing the truth, and vengeance is a path that will ultimately lead him to the Dark Side of the force and his own destruction. Eventually, Luke changes these goals in favor of leading the Rebellion and saving his father from the clutches of the Emperor and the Dark Side, but only once he has sufficiently grown in maturity through conflict and learned the truth about his heritage. Remember that your own hero does not have to be going in the precisely correct direction on their journey. Yes, they have a plan for how to resolve their problem and get what they think that they want; but that plan does not need to be good or in their own best interest. The direction and modification of the protagonist's goals to get where the protagonist actually needs to be, should come from their growth in dealing with problems and from learning more about the central conflict in their life.
Tip 6: Lead up to your First Pinch Point
The following plot point, the First Pinch Point, is the part of a story in which the plot sets up a situation where the hero must come into confrontation with the antagonist. However, the setup for that situation begins within the Rising Action. In a superhero movie, for example, the villains will often take notice of the hero because of what happens during the Rising Action—acts of heroism that either interfered with their nefarious deeds or that appear to be a threat to the villain's plans. We see this in A New Hope when Luke saves Leia and begins creating problems for Vader, as well as in the sequels when Vader begins to sense Luke's power. In your own story, the events within the Rising Action should cause your primary antagonistic force to either begin to notice the protagonist, or create a situation in which the two forces are on a collision course (even if it is not obvious to the protagonist or the reader). The First Pinch Point should begin right at the very highest point of growth/progress/development that your character will have achieved through the Rising Action.
Weekly Recommended Reading: Beyond the Deepwoods by Chris Riddell and Paul Stewart (Though the series is not perfect, it is quick, entertaining, and a shining example when it comes to the Rising Action that strengthens, tests, and challenges the hero while still remaining fun.)
Write-A-Novel Exercise 6.4
Write the chapters that contains your Rising Action. Though this can certainly be a single chapter, feel free to make it longer than the other plot-points by finding a way to tie in all of the fun adventures that you couldn't think of a place for in the plot outline.
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I probably wouldn't say that failure is necessary. There are quite a few stories with overpowered characters who don' struggle with the events. And that doesn't mean, that they are bad. I think failure is so important, because it's often the main catalyst for character development, because it destroys the worldview of the characters, after we already destroyed the Status Quo in one big event... but character development can also come through feelings, seeing other characters failing or even just letting the protagonist go with the flow.
So while this is a great guideline for many stories with battles, I would probably say, that the important part is the character development, so that the reader can experience something new with all these little changes. It's not a big deal, but I think there can be good stories without big struggle or failures... it's just harder to find natural events to keep the flow going
Many titles I thought of are japanese Light Novels about overpowered Gary Stu as protagonist. I had dismissed them afterwards, because their level of writing is probably on a arguable level. I know of quite a few Youth Books I red, but sadly they never went into my book shelf, so I can't remember all their names. For what is in there, I discovered, that most of them have some struggle, but on a level where it isn't the main reason or focus anymore. So some of the ones I remember probably had minor struggle I just dismissed.
One more-known example I found for "(nearly) no struggle" would be Terry Pratchett and some books out of his Discworld series with strong or unshakeable protagonists. In them it's more like the world is changing around the characters and they are just going the way of the least resistance and accept the flow of the world. It probably has a big deal to do with the fact, that this are later books in series, so that the appeal can be achieved through reunions or memories. Or things like "this character struggled enough in the last book and now can have an easy life the reader will accept and enjoy".
I have some cloudy memories about some youth books I read (mostly easy romance/sports), where this is the case and I'll try to remember the name and look into them when I have more time.
But it's possible that one could argue, that they are deliberately "flawed" a bit to leave some themes out of them. From a more grown-up view they are probably a bad-aged read
So in the end we are really talking about a minor special case and it probably isn't something new/inexperienced should try to pull.
Even I'm a big fan of the whole "Hey, your friend just died right before your eyes!" theme...
This past week I watched a couple of Steven Segall(?) movies. It was then that I figured the thing about his movies I never liked - he plays Gary Stu characters in terms of 'getting hurt'. Except for 'Hard To Kill where his character was in a coma for seven years.(and even that was a bit of farce considering how fast he recovered.) Now compare that to the "Original Modern Action Hero" Rambo. In First Blood, he got beat up, a piece of wood through his side, and in the unused ending, shot. For as tough as Rambo is, he gets injured in some way.
It's been a while since I watched the old Rambo movies. Need to watch them again to see all the things I missed when I was a teenager. The Seagal movies never appealed to me much for some reason, I couldn't get into them enough to watch very long. Except the one he played himself in a minor role alongside the character who suffered from gigantism.