Defining Rising Action

The classic story arc requires rising action to keep a novel progressing toward its climax. For the first-time novelist (and even some experienced novelists), rising action can be harder to implement than to talk about.
Writing Tip for Today: What kinds of action should a writer consider in the novel?

  • Keep Characters in Motion. In my editorial business, I see a lot of scenes where the characters are sitting around talking about action. Novels about military maneuvers or battles are especially vulnerable–the characters are standing around in the war room talking about what they are going to do. I think it’s better to either act out the battle itself (at least in part) or skip it. Limit scenes of mostly dialogue, and beware the “let’s have a cuppa tea” scene where characters sit around and gab. In real life we do spend a lot of time around tables, eating and drinking, but in a novel you limit the action by using this vehicle too often.
  • Manage Time Accounting. Never say your character is bored, has nothing to do or that a time period is uneventful. Just skip to the next event. What does it accomplish to suggest that anything in your story isn’t exciting, tense or full of conflict. My opinion is that by putting a “boring idea” in your reader’s head, you risk their putting down your story.
  • Rising Action Means the Stakes Get Higher. Finally, in order to present rising action, the novel writer must present tension that keeps growing. This doesn’t mean things have to explode or burn down. It just means that your narrator must be increasingly agitated, worried or stressed over each new development. And every development must inch the character closer to the goal.

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

2 comments on “Defining Rising Action

  1. I agree, except for the military strategy planning, especially in Sci-Fi novels, have those scenes so the reader doesn’t think the battle is being made up as they go along. Making it up seems to fall flat when authors do it.

    Sure, now they have those scenes with simulators the help prep them for the upcoming fight, or holographic models, but they are always there.

    With the MIUAYGA plan, it weakens because most authors who do use it, refer to something that wasn’t in the plan and I and scores of others love to see the planning scene acted out. It draws in our attention more than just random battle scene #19483749.

    Sorry, if it seems like a rant. It’s not intended to be. Just pointing out a difference in opinions.

  2. Mike, Thanks for offering a different perspective. But I still think if the “planning” outweighs the “action” for too much of the story, it may not move along as fast as the reader desires. You made a good point, though!
    ~Linda

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