Rising Action in a Story: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:02 What Is Rising Action?
  • 1:14 Development of the…
  • 1:57 Rising Action Examples
  • 5:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ann Casano

Ann has taught university level Film classes and has a Master's Degree in Cinema Studies.

Every story strives to keep the audience interested. In this lesson, we will take a look at how writers create drama and tension through developing the rising action of the plot.

What Is Rising Action?

The simplest way to define drama is bad things happening to characters. Writers create drama through conflict, either internal or external, and by putting hurdles in the way of the hero's goal. What if we were watching a movie about a guy who fell in love with a girl from work? The couple gets along great. They never argue about his shady past or her daddy issues. Then, at the end of the movie, they get married and live happily ever after. It's a nice story, but that would also be the most boring movie ever.

So, in order to keep an audience from yawning, writers must create conflict. This tension makes the story interesting and puts an audience on the edge of its seat. This drama is created by developing the rising action. The rising action is the part of the plot where obstacles stand in the way of the protagonist achieving his goal. It doesn't matter what the goal is: marrying the girl of his dreams, getting the job, winning the big game or finding the treasure. Before the hero accomplishes his goal (if he accomplishes his goal), he must first navigate his way through every obstacle.

The Development of the Rising Action

As the story develops, the hero's quest becomes harder and harder. At first, the conflicts are not a major issue for the hero, he overcomes them with little difficulty. However, as we move along in the story, obstacles become more complex. There is also more to lose. Towards the end of the story, it seems unlikely that the hero will ever achieve his goal. This escalation leads to the climax, the part of the plot where it will ultimately be determined whether the hero will overcome all the conflict from the rising action or fail to overcome the conflict and face defeat.

Rising Action Examples

Every story has a rising action. We see it in fairy tales told to 3-year-olds to monster epics told in six parts like the Star Wars movies. Here are a few popular examples:

In Rocky IV (1985), our old friend Rocky Balboa agrees to train his buddy Apollo Creed in an exhibition boxing match against an enormously strong Russian named Ivan Drago. Creed treats the fight as a joke, but Drago is a trained boxing machine and winds up killing Creed in the ring.

As a matter of pride, Rocky decides to travel all the way to Russia to fight Drago on Christmas Day. First off, Rocky's wife doesn't want him to go. Then, he must train with two guys in the cold, harsh Russian winter without the proper equipment, while Drago has a team of trainers and the best possible facilities available. Drago also uses steroids. The rising action heats up when we factor in that this film was made during the height of the Cold War. Rocky is fighting for Creed, but he is also fighting for the pride of an entire nation.

When Rocky steps into the ring, the Russian crowd boos him. Drago not only outweighs him by a hundred pounds but he's also stronger, faster, younger and built like a tank. All these obstacles stand in the way of Rocky's path to victory. In fact, Rocky's life may even be in danger. We saw how Drago killed Creed by taking one too many punches to the head.

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