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Freytag’s Pyramid: 5 Stages Explanation and Application

Out of the numerous storytelling structures, few get the most limelight in the screenwriting world. Most writers are familiar with the popular names like Save The Cat, Hero’s Journey, Story Circle, and the like; however, one lesser known concept, albeit more popular in literautre, is Freytag’s Pyramid.

What is Freytag’s Pyramid?

Freytag’s Pyramid is a dramatic structure commonly used in literature and storytelling to analyze the organization of a narrative. It gets its name from the German novelist and playwright Gustav Freytag, who first came up with the concept in his book “Die Technik des Dramas” (The Technique of the Drama) in 1863. The pyramid is a visualization of the five essential elements of a plot, arranged in a pyramid-like structure, representing the rise and fall of tension in a story. The five steps have some overlap with the traditional three-act structure.

5 Stages of Freytag’s Pyramid

Let’s take a look at each of the stages of this narrative framework. We will attempt to understand it with the help of Steven Spielberg’s cult classic, Jaws.

Five Stages of Freytag’s Pyramid

1. Exposition

The exposition is the introductory phase where essential elements of the story are presented. This includes the introduction of characters, the setting, and the initial situation. The primary goal is to provide necessary background information for the audience.

Characters: Chief Martin Brody, a police chief; Matt Hooper, an oceanographer; Quint, a seasoned shark hunter.

Setting: Amity Island, a coastal town known for its summer tourism.

Initial Situation: A series of shark attacks disrupt the idyllic summer, prompting Chief Brody to take action.

2. Rising Action

The rising action is the phase where the central conflict (often it is the inciting incident) is developed, and tension begins to escalate. Events unfold, complications arise, and characters face challenges that drive the narrative forward.

Shark Attacks: As the shark attacks continue, fear and tension escalate among the townspeople.

Hunt for the Shark: Chief Brody, along with Hooper and Quint, sets out on a perilous journey to hunt the great white shark.

Complications: The challenges of hunting the elusive shark, including its sheer size and ferocity, intensify the rising action.

3. Climax

The climax is the pinnacle of tension in the story. It’s the moment of greatest intensity where the central conflict reaches a turning point. The protagonist faces a critical decision or confrontation that determines the direction of the narrative.

Final Confrontation: The climax occurs during the intense battle between the crew and the great white shark.

Dilemma: Chief Brody faces a critical decision when the shark attacks the boat, and he must confront his fear to save the day.

Outcome: The climax culminates with the dramatic explosion of the shark, marking a victory for the protagonists.

4. Falling Action

The falling action follows the climax and involves the unravelling of the plot. Loose ends are tied up, and the consequences of the protagonist’s actions are addressed. The story begins to wind down, preparing for the resolution.

Resolving the Threat: With the shark defeated, the immediate threat to Amity Island is resolved.

Aftermath: The falling action explores the aftermath, with the characters processing the events and returning to a sense of normalcy.

Character Development: Chief Brody undergoes character development, overcoming his fear and becoming a hero.

5. Resolution

The resolution, also known as the denouement, is the final outcome or conclusion of the story. It provides closure and answers lingering questions. Characters may undergo further development, and the audience gains a sense of the long-term consequences.

Closing Scene: The movie concludes with Chief Brody and Hooper swimming to safety, emphasizing their survival and the victory over the shark.

Closing Shots: The closing shots show the calm waters, symbolizing the return to tranquility for Amity Island.

Implication: The resolution implies a sense of relief and closure, but it also acknowledges that the characters may carry the emotional scars of the ordeal.

Use of Freytag’s Pyramid in Screenwriting

While Freytag’s Pyramid is typically associated with literature, it can be utilized by screenwriters as well. Let’s take a look at some benefits of doing so.

Structural Framework: The pyramid provides a clear and recognizable structure for writers to organize their screenplay. Having a well-defined structure helps maintain a cohesive and engaging narrative for the audience.

Tension and Pacing: By understanding the different stages of the pyramid, screenwriters can effectively control the tension and pacing of their story. The rising action builds tension, the climax provides a peak of intensity, and the falling action and resolution allow for a gradual release of that tension.

Character Development: Each stage of the pyramid offers opportunities for character development. The exposition introduces characters, the rising action challenges them, the climax puts them to the test, and the falling action and resolution show the consequences of their actions.

Conflict Management: Freytag’s Pyramid emphasizes the importance of conflict in storytelling. Writers can use each stage to introduce, escalate, and resolve conflicts, creating a dynamic and engaging narrative.

Audience Engagement: The pyramid structure aligns with the audience’s natural expectations for a (commercial / mainstream) story. This familiarity can enhance the audience’s engagement and enjoyment, as they intuitively understand the progression of events.

Script Analysis: Screenwriters can use Freytag’s Pyramid as a tool for analyzing their own scripts or the scripts of others. It helps identify areas where the story might lack tension, have pacing issues, or need further development.

While not every screenplay strictly adheres to Freytag’s Pyramid, it serves as a foundational tool for screenwriters to understand and implement effective storytelling techniques.

Applying Freytag’s Pyramid

Different genres often demand variations in how Freytag’s Pyramid is applied. If you’d like to try out using this concept for your next screenplay, below are some broad guidelines on how it may apply


Exposition: Set the stage with an eerie atmosphere and introduce elements that foreshadow tension.

Rising Action: Build suspense gradually, introducing mysterious events and escalating threats.

Climax: Deliver a shocking revelation or a terrifying encounter, the peak of horror or suspense.

Falling Action: Unravel the mystery, revealing the truth behind the fear, and address lingering questions.

Resolution: Provide a sense of closure, but leave room for a lingering sense of unease or the potential for future scares.


Exposition: Establish the romantic leads, their backgrounds, and the initial circumstances that bring them together.

Rising Action: Develop the romantic relationship, introducing obstacles that test their connection.

Climax: Present a pivotal moment that challenges the relationship, potentially leading to a temporary separation or conflict.

Falling Action: Resolve the conflicts, allowing the characters to learn and grow from their experiences.

Resolution: Conclude with a reaffirmation of love and commitment, providing a satisfying resolution for the romantic arc.


Exposition: Introduce comedic elements, setting up the characters’ quirks and the humorous premise.

Rising Action: Escalate comedic situations, introducing complications and misunderstandings.

Climax: Reach the height of comedic chaos, often involving a sequence of hilarious events.

Falling Action: Resolve misunderstandings and complications, paving the way for a harmonious conclusion.

Resolution: End with a comedic resolution, leaving the audience with a sense of joy and laughter.


Exposition: Establish the dramatic setting, introducing complex characters and their relationships.

Rising Action: Develop conflicts and challenges that test the characters’ resilience and values.

Climax: Present a moment of intense emotional turmoil or a critical decision that shapes the characters’ destinies.

Falling Action: Address the consequences of the characters’ actions, allowing for emotional catharsis.

Resolution: Conclude with a resolution that may not be entirely positive but provides closure and reflection.

Science Fiction/Fantasy

Exposition: Introduce the fantastical world or futuristic setting, along with unique rules and technologies.

Rising Action: Explore the world’s intricacies, introducing conflicts that arise from futuristic elements.

Climax: Unveil a significant twist, revelation, or epic battle that shapes the fate of the world or characters.

Falling Action: Address the consequences of the fantastical events, providing context for the resolution.

Resolution: Conclude with a new order or understanding in the sci-fi or fantasy realm, leaving room for imagination.


Exposition: Establish the mysterious atmosphere, introducing a compelling enigma or crime.

Rising Action: Uncover clues and build suspense, introducing characters with ambiguous motives.

Climax: Reveal the solution to the mystery in a dramatic and unexpected manner.

Falling Action: Address loose ends, explaining the motives and circumstances surrounding the mystery.

Resolution: Conclude with the resolution of the crime, providing closure and often a sense of justice.


Exposition: Introduce the adventurous world, setting, and the protagonist’s quest or mission.

Rising Action: Escalate action sequences, introducing obstacles and challenges that test the protagonist’s skills.

Climax: Stage an intense and pivotal action set-piece, often involving a confrontation with the main antagonist.

Falling Action: Allow the protagonist to recover or regroup after the climax, addressing any remaining challenges.

Resolution: Conclude with the successful achievement of the quest or the protagonist’s growth, providing a sense of accomplishment.

Each genre brings its own set of expectations and storytelling conventions, and these considerations within Freytag’s Pyramid can help writers navigate those nuances effectively. However, like all principles, there are always some exceptions.

Deviations and Variations

While Freytag’s Pyramid provides a solid narrative structure, many storytellers intentionally deviate from its traditional path to create unique and engaging experiences. Deviations can involve nonlinear timelines, multiple protagonists, or unconventional plot structures. For example, Christopher Nolan’s “Memento” defies chronological order, revealing its story in reverse, keeping audiences on the edge of their seats. Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” intertwines multiple narratives, challenging the linear progression of Freytag’s Pyramid. These variations serve to surprise, challenge, and engage viewers in new and innovative ways, proving that departure from the traditional can enhance storytelling.

Whether you prefer to write with popular storytelling templates, or if you’re trying to write a non-linear screenplay, Scrite allows you to use custom templates and seamlessly visualize the structure of your screenplay. You can get started for free by downloading the app.