Story Arcs

Everyone has heard of story arcs, known more formally as “The Dramatic Structure.” They have become a staple in our classrooms, as they serve as a nice way of understanding a text. Invented by Joseph Freytag (Fry-TAK), the Dramatic Structure has 5 parts: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and dénouement (DEY-noo-mah). This should all sound very familiar.

However, what your teachers didn’t teach you is that Freytag’s Dramatic Structure is only applicable to stories that have 5 acts, such as Shakespeare’s plays, or Greek epics like The Odyssey. So, is it a hard and fast rule for all fiction?

The easy answer is no. Very few modern authors sit down with the intent of writing a 5-act story. Some authors think the story arc is secondary to the plot, or the characters themselves. There is no particular right or wrong way of looking at it, though it would be safe to say that most modern stories, like Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, do not adhere to this format.

These days, using the 5-act structure for your story will make it come across as a more formal and traditional piece. This is neither good nor bad by itself, but is dependent on the effect that you’re trying to create.

If you’re currently in the middle of a piece, this is not something that you should worry about too much. You just need to know that you aren’t tied down to the formula your teachers taught you in 7th grade.

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