Rising Actions | Elements of a Novel – Part 6

Elements of a Novel: Rising Action
Elements of a Novel: Rising Action

Welcome to Part Six of the Elements of a Novel Series! Today we’re talking about Rising Actions! (ICYMI, here are the links to Part One: Creating Characters, Part Two: Choosing a Plot Structure, Part Three: Setting and World Building, Part Four: The Beginning, and Part Five: The Inciting Incident.)

Rising actions are how you keep your story interesting, your readers engaged, and your plot and character development moving forward. That’s a lot to ask of one novel element! This post aims to break down exactly what rising actions are, and how to make them work for you in the least intimidating way possible.

Let’s take a look at what rising actions are, how many you need, and how to manage them in your novel!

What are rising actions?

Rising actions are the pivotal points in your novel that lead to the climactic moment. In a plot structure like the one below, they are the crisis points on the chart. (For more on this plot structure, check out this post!)

Rising actions are designed to continually push the plot and challenge your character. If they’re executed effectively, they will lead you to a natural climactic moment. This may be a showdown between your protagonist and villain, a crucial revelation for your main character, or something similar.

The main role rising actions play in your plot is to ensure your climax doesn’t come out of nowhere. If you know you want your book to end with a major confrontation between your protagonist and antagonist, your readers need to see that conflict build in order to become appropriately invested in the outcome. Rising actions will help you get there gradually. They will help your reader understand and care about the confrontation just as much as your characters do.

Additionally, they can help your character progressively grow. If you want your character to evolve and change by the end of your book, then that growth shouldn’t come out of nowhere either. Readers need to see the tiny steps your character makes throughout the book that gets them from Point A to Point B.

How many rising actions do you need?

There’s no concrete rule on how many rising actions you need. Ultimately, it will depend on the story you’re writing and the plot structure you’re following. Longer books will likely have more rising actions tha shorter ones, and some plot structures suggest more than others. (For more on plot structures, check out part two of this series!) I like to use the plot structure pictured in the previous point, so I usually go with four rising actions. I would suggest considering between three and six, depending on what makes the most sense for your story.

There truly is no right answer here. The more rising actions you have, the more of a build to the climax there will be. This can be a good or bad thing, depending on your book. If you pick too few, you run the risk of not paying enough attention to the build and the climax may feel a little random to your readers. However, if you pick too many, it may draw your plot out too much.

When in doubt, go with the middle ground (so, in this case, four or five) for your first draft, then see how your book looks in revision. If the plot feels too drawn out, you can cut or combine rising actions. If it feels too abrupt, you can add some. Be mindful, but don’t let this decision hold you up. You can always fix your book later!

How do you lead into rising actions?

I find it easiest to think of each rising action as mini climactic moments in their own right. It’s typically best to build up to each rising action like you’re doing with the climax itself. Take another look at the plot structure above. Do you notice how the shape of the graph gently slopes up to each rising action? They’re not shown as sharp upward spikes. That’s because it’s usually most effective to progress into the rising action.

For example, let’s say one of your rising actions is that your character has to break out of somewhere. That typically takes preparation. So instead of your character just deciding to break out and making an attempt, you can have events in the chapter or two prior where your character prepares to break out. Maybe in one chapter, they get supplies, then in the next, they watch the guards and choose the best moment. Then in the following chapter, they actually execute the breakout.

This will help your reader anticipate and become invested in the rising action while giving you an event that helps them become equally as invested in the climax.

What should each rising action include?

Ideally, each rising action should include an event that gets your character closer to the climactic plot point and gets your character closer to who you want them to be at the end of the book.

When it comes to plot, each rising action should give your character something that will either help them in the climax, or help them get to the climax. This could mean that one of your rising actions forces your character to uncover a skill they didn’t know they had, which they can then develop and use at your story’s pivotal moment. Or maybe your character learns crucial information that helps them learn or understand something important about their enemy.

Additionally, you can really take your rising actions to the next level if you tie some character development to each rising action. For example, let’s say you want your character to learn to be more trusting. In your first rising action, they can be forced to work with and trust someone they’re uncomfortable with to retrieve information that’s pivotal to the plot. Then the next plot point should build on that trust. Maybe after being forced to work together, they come to a truce of sorts. Then the trust will build from there in the next few rising actions.

For more on how to make plot and character work together, check out this post!

How do you come out of a rising action?

Once you reach the peak of your rising action and get your characters out of their situation/back to safety, it’s usually a good idea to give them a moment to breathe and regroup from whatever they went through. Maybe they nearly got caught by their enemy, or maybe another character died. Whatever happened, they’ll likely need time to process, evaluate their situation, and recover.

These recovery periods can make for some particularly good character moments. As we’ve said, the rising actions themselves should push and challenge your characters. This may put them in emotionally or physically vulnerable situations that they will have to deal with during these recovery periods.

Something else to keep in mind: if you want to keep building tension, it’s a good idea for your rising actions to get more intense and for your characters to suffer more consequences after the rising actions as your book progresses. This may result in stronger and more interesting character moments as you move through your book.

How do you plot rising actions?

Before you can plot your rising actions, you have to choose a plot structure. (See Part Two!) Once you pick your plot structure, you can choose to plot forward or backward, depending on what seems easier.

No matter what you pick, I would suggest having some idea what you climax is from the start, even if it’s only a vague idea. It’s a lot easier to plot your rising actions if you know what you’re rising to.

If you’re plotting from the start of your book and moving forward, look at where your character is starting, and refer to your plot structure. Then figure out what the first step they need to take on their journey to get them one step closer to the climax. Then have them take another step, then another. Keep taking steps forward until your plot structure is filled in or you reach the climax.

In this method, you build tension and momentum in the same chronological way you want your reader to experience it. It’s best for writers who have an idea of how to get their character from the beginning to the end, but just need to fill in some blanks.

If you’re plotting backward, start at your climax and consider your plot structure. Then, figure out the step that needs to happen right before the climax to bring it about. Then you take another step backward and figure out what needs to happen to bring that plot point about. After that, you take another step back, then another until you reach the start of the book.

This method can be best for writers who feel like they have no idea how their character is going to get from the beginning to the end. It helps prevent you from focusing too much on the (possibly) overwhelming big picture. Instead, it encourages you to zero in on the events that need to happen prior, in order for the climax to occur.

I hope this helps you create some awesome rising actions for your novel!

Now it’s your turn: What are your tips and tricks for creating rising actions? How do you keep your rising actions interesting? Tell me about it in the comments!

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