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Rising action is the time between your inciting incident and climax.

Your inciting incident has launched your story in this new direction. The rising action is the longest section of your novel.

Most novels will contain 2 to 4 dramatic events during the rising action – each more severe/significant/worse than the last.

The Role of Rising Action

Think of rising action like climbing a mountain. The tension is going up, up, up. Make sure your rising action does the following four things.

#1 – Move the Story Towards the Climax

Your reader should always, always feel like important things are happening during rising action. 

It’s not going to be easy or smooth. New obstacles will crop up, old issues will resurface. 

However, you need to add ones that will be organic. You can’t have something happen just to happen – it needs to enhance your story. Work with it.

You’re going to move toward the climax like you’re climbing a mountain and it’s getting steeper and steeper. You need to create (or build on) tension, suspense, and/or drama. You need to be constantly changing the current situation.

#2 – Develop Characters

A novel is a marathon, not a sprint. The rising action is when your characters really develop. This is the longest period of time you have to show your characters developing.

#3 – Develop Relationships

This is the time to build your relationships. Be sure to include a variety of relationship types and depths.

#4 – Success and Failure

It’s not a straight path of wins to the top. For every win, there should be a harder loss.

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Rising Action Examples from Award-Winning & Bestselling Fiction

The Rising Action is the longest part of a novel and usually contains a few dramatic events. Let’s look at a dramatic event from some bestselling and award-winning novels.


The cover for the award winning novel LESS

LESS, published in 2017, is a satirical comedy novel by  Andrew Sean Greer.

LESS won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Rising Action Dramatic Events:

  1. Mexico
  2. Italy
  3. Germany
  4. France
  5. Morocco
  6. India

Analysis of Dramatic Event #2: Italy

Less goes to Italy for an awards ceremony. He’s been nominated but thinks there is no way he would win.

#1 – Moves towards Climax

The dramatic events of this novel are all related to periods of time on Less’ journey around the world. A couple of things happen in this chapter to move the plot towards the climax:

  • The narrator tells of a time when Less was at a different awards ceremony and felt like the enemy due to his writing.
  • Less wins the Italian award.
#2 – Develops Characters

This chapter continues to develop Less as an awkward and oblivious man. For example, the presence of teenage girls makes him uncomfortable at the pool and it isn’t until later he realizes they’re the judges.

#3 – Develops Relationships

Less’ relationship with Freddy and his relationship with Robert are both explored through flashbacks. Freddy takes care of Less when he feels inferior & Less follows along after Robert’s success.

#4 – Success or Failure

The chapter demonstrates that Less feels like a failure – but he wins.


The cover for the bestselling novel GONE GIRL

GONE GIRL, published in 2012, is a mystery, thriller & suspense novel by Gillian Flynn. The movie was released in 2014.

GONE GIRL spent 8 weeks at #1 on the NYT Bestseller List. It’s estimated the novel sold more than 15 million copies worldwide by 2016.

Rising Action Dramatic Events:

  1. A treasure hunt – accompanied by the police.
  2. Maxed out credit cards & a staged scene
  3. Amy’s alive & Nick knows it
  4. Amy comes home

Analysis of Dramatic Event #3: Alive

This was my favorite part of the novel.

#1 – Moves towards Climax

This is where Nick begins to clearly understand Amy’s plan to set him up for her murder. It’s an excellent dramatic event to increase tension for Nick and does its job of making him look guilty to outsiders.

#2 – Develops Characters

Amy’s alive! This definitely develops her character. She’s now an active participant in the story (well, she always was but now the reader is aware of it).

Nick’s realization about the deep shit he’s in adds a new element to his personality. It’s no longer just about finding his wife to prove his innocence, now he has to maneuver in Amy’s trap.

#3 – Develops Relationships

Here is when we start to see a more accurate portrayal of Nick & Amy’s relationship. It’s still going to be biased because we see everything through their eyes but a lot of their secrets are exposed now.

#4 – Success or Failure

This is a massive success for Amy. But it plays out to be a loss for Nick.

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Writing Prompts & Exercises for Rising Action

Exercise: Analyze More Novels

Every genre will be a little different. Choose some of your favorite novels and some novels in the genre you want to write in (if they’re different). Analyze the rising action of each novel.

  1. How many dramatic events are there during the rising action?
  2. For each dramatic event:
    • How does this help move the story to the climax?
    • Does it develop characters? How?
    • Does it develop any relationships? Which ones? How?
    • Is it a win or a loss for the protagonist? Why? What could have happened differently?

Exercise: Analyze LITTLE RED

Answer the questions from exercise one about the rising action of LITTLE RED-CAP.

Exercise: Adapt LITTLE RED

Now that you understand the rising action of LITTLE RED, it’s time to extend it. What if something else had happened?

Your task: Write a new dramatic event of at least 400 words. You can reimagine the plot in any way, or keep to the current plotline and have something else happen on Red’s way to her grandmothers.


You’ve found a genie who promises to grant you three wishes. But be careful what you wish for – this genie grants the opposite.

Your task: Write a dramatic scene of at least 400 words. 

Writing Notebooks!

I love writing notebooks. I never, never, throw them away. I carry one with me everywhere. I use them for writing short prompts, or warmups. Check out these fun inexpensive notebook!

Up, Up, and Away

Pin This: How to Write Rising Action (rising action is a crucial part of your novel. Learn about the 4 ways it works).

It’s time to leave the familiar world and climb up, up, and away!

Make sure you have 2-4 dramatic events that each follow the 4 elements of rising action!

When you’re done with rising action, what happens? The climax! Check out How to Write a Climax next.

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Pin This: How to Write a Book (Want to learn how to write a book? Check out this comprehensive list of resources for novel writing (like outlining, plot, character development, and more).


Pin This: How to Write the Climax (the climax of a story is the biggest moment. Learn the four elements of a climax with modern fiction examples).

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