Freytag’s Pyramid


A tried and tested plot model

In 1863, Gustav Freytag, a German writer, came up with a diagram of a pyramid, now known as ‘Freytag’s Pyramid’, to describe the course of a typical plot. It suggests five elements to a narrative: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement. We can learn a lot from this structure in terms of our own plotting.



The first element of Freytag's pyramid is the exposition. This introduces most of the characters, particularly the main character, and relationships between them. In your exposition you need to establish the character/s’ goals – because that will help determine the rest of the story.

Rising action

Rising action is the second element. This is where you bring in the inciting incident, such as a death or some kind of crisis, which the main character has to deal with. You need to get your protagonist moving so that the reader wants to know how they are going to cope with the obstacles thrown at them


The third element, the climax, is shown on the pyramid as the highest point in the story. It’s often a turning point for the protagonist, sometimes taking the form of a struggle, literal or metaphorical, with the antagonist.  As a result of this, the main character makes a decision that ultimately decides their fate.

Falling action

According to Freytag, the falling action element consists of events that lead to the ending. The main character carries out actions based on his decision (see climax, above). Often this puts him in peril and the reader wonders whether he will ever achieve his goal.


This French word literally means ‘the unknotting.’ In the last phase, the conflicts are finally resolved and the protagonist achieves his goals. Some stories show what happens after the conflict ends.

Freytag’s plot model can help us create successful narratives – after all, he based his ideas on the Greek philosopher Aristotle’s theories (384–322 BC) so they’ve worked for a pretty long time.