Rising Action - Literative

5-Act Play Structure: Rising Action & Climax

Jennifer Mendez The Writing Process


By this point, you should know about the prologue and conflict in a 5-act play, if you’ve been following the series. Now, it’s time for the rising action. Just as the name suggests, rising action is all about what the characters are doing, whether it’s plotting, executing mischievous plans, or worse. Whatever it is, it needs to be “rising,” meaning it needs to start rather “tame” and end with a climax. In fact, it’s best to think of this third act as two parts: rising action and climax.

What Is Rising Action?

If conflict was the beginning of trouble, and the climax is the epitome of it, then rising action is the middle ground connecting the two. It is when the characters focus on action that leads to the climax, the most tense moment in all the play. An example of this is that moment in a play when the villain is setting a princess in a fiery pyre, ready to burn the poor princess to a crisp in a matter of minutes. The good guys know about it, and they’re on their way to stop it, but remember by this point, there’s been conflict (act 2), so they’re being held up. They’re behind, and the fire is about to get lit. Rising action: the villain is setting his plan in motion, making it worse and worse, and the good guys are technically losing the battle for a bit.

Why Is It Important?

It leads to the climax. Going back to the example, rising action sets the stage for the second part of the 3rd act: climax. This means the fire starts to smoke and crackle, but maybe, just maybe, the good guys get there in time to fight the villain and stop the fire from reaching the princess. The tension is unreal when watching, because you thought she was going to die, but she didn’t. Not only does this give the audience a climactic moment, it also sets the stage for the next act.

How To Best Portray Rising Action & Climax

Always keep the previous step, and the next step, within sight. Remember to intensify and build upon the conflict already created in the play (rising action), but make sure you rapidly begin to intensify it enough so that when it’s time for the climax, it’s impactful. Perhaps the best method of portraying these elements in a play are to think of rising action as the transition to the climax. Before things can burn on the stage, the pyre and the princess need to be placed. It’s very much chronological. During the setting of the pyre, the good guys need to be on their way, but slowly. Maybe they’re fighting a group of henchmen, and a giant, and things are looking a little grim.

But that moment, the moment when they do get to the villain, the fire should quickly be lit, making it the climax. Suddenly, there’s a timer on the princess’ life, and the good guys go head to head with the villain. More henchmen are thrown into the mix, and things seem dire for everyone. Who will win? What will happen? Will the princess burn?

rising action 2 - literative


Act 3 in a 5-act play marks the very middle. It’s both rising action, and the climax, making it the most exciting act in the entire play. The audience should feel the tension rise with every step taken, inching their way to the edges of their seats by the time the climax is in full motion. There can be no climax without the rising action to set the stage, and there can be no play without a climactic moment. When writing a play, remember that this is what the play has been leading up to this whole time. Make it good. Everything after this will be a matter of wrapping up your story.

Next up in the breakdown of a 5 act play:

Falling Action in storywriting

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