Plot Elements in Drama: From Exposition to Resolution

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  • 0:01 Dramatic Structure in…
  • 0:59 Freytag's Pyramid
  • 1:57 Exposition
  • 2:43 Rising Action and Climax
  • 4:03 Falling Action and Resolution
  • 5:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason Lineberger

Jason has 20 years of education experience including 14 years of teaching college literature.

Plays follow a predictable pattern that is referred to as their dramatic structure. In this lesson, you'll learn the five parts of dramatic structure, and you'll have the opportunity to test yourself at the end with a short quiz.

Dramatic Structure in Fairy Tales

If you've ever listened to a fairy tale, then you're probably familiar with dramatic structure, but you just don't know all the fancy literary terms yet. Fairy tales, like plays, follow the same predictable pattern.

When you hear a fairy tale, you're introduced to a hero and a villain, and the two are set on a course that you know will cause them to meet again. Often the hero and villain meet a couple of times, and usually the villain gets the better of the hero. Then there's a moment where everything hangs in the balance and the story will either end sadly or you'll get a 'happily every after' ending. The hero eventually beats the villain, gets the treasure, and everyone goes home smiling.

This same pattern works every time because it's so perfectly satisfying. Follow along, and I'll show you how this fits dramatic structure, but first a little background.

Freytag's Pyramid

Gustav Freytag was a German playwright. He wanted to wrap his mind around the proper structure of plays and, at the time, most plays contained five acts, which are the major sections in the play. Think about Shakespeare. His plays were all five acts long, and he didn't come up with that formula; that's just how plays were written for a long time.

Freytag figured out that these plays followed a predictable pattern. They gave background, built up the struggle between the characters, and had a moment where everything hung in the balance. One character came out as the winner, and the story wrapped up. Does that sound like a fairy tale? It should because it's the same pattern.

Freytag created a diagram to explain dramatic structure
Freytags Pyramid

Freytag created a nifty diagram, Freytag's Pyramid, that explains the five-part structure of most plays. Let's go through the parts of the pyramid.


The first part is the exposition, which is the part of the play where the audience learns about the setting, the characters, and any background information they might need to understand the conflict. Audiences usually learn all this through the characters talking on stage, but sometimes plays will feature a narrator who simply explains the situation to the audience. Our fairy tale example will be that classic story of wine and wolves, 'Little Red Riding Hood.'

In the exposition of the story you learn that Little Red is planning a walk to her grandmother's house to deliver goodies to that sick relative. You also learn that there's a sneaky wolf in the woods who is looking to fill his belly. That's all the background you need to understand the action that will follow.

Rising Action

The next part of a drama is the rising action. That's when the story gets more intense. In plays, the rising action is the most important part of the story, because it's when the conflict is developed and the audience learns to care about the play's main character. This section makes up the majority of the play.

In the story of Little Red, the rising action takes place as she walks through the dangerous woods, on a collision course with the wolf waiting at her grandmother's house. The wolf has proven that he's dangerous by eating the old woman and dressing up like her, and the reader isn't sure if Little Red will be fooled by the wolf's tricks. The tension builds as she skips towards the moment when she will face a life-and-death situation.

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