Last night, after spending a few hours toiling over trying to decipher Freytag’s 18th century manner of discourse into 21st century English, or even late 20th century, I sat down and watched I, Robot on the telly. Bang! Within the first ten-minutes I had watched Freytag’s dramatic pyramid unfold before my eyes; including Aristotle’s sudden reversal. Let me try and explain.
Freytag’s dramatic pyramid looks like an upside down V. A drama rises from the introduction at the base of one of the legs, passes through the exciting moment (the point where the inciting incident or dramatic complication occurs) and keeps rising until it meets the climax of the action at the pinnacle. From there it falls away, passing through the counteraction (or aftermath of the climax) until it culminates in catastrophe.
Now, that’s a simplistic view which Freytag takes 26 pages of text to explain in detail. However, in the opening scenes of I, Robot, you can see it all unfold. The story starts with the introduction of the main character as a cop (waking up in bed—how cliché) and we are introduced to the milieu. Next there is the inciting incident, the MC sees a robot running down the street holding a purse. Thus begins the chase and the rising action until we get to the climax; the MC captures and subdues the robot. Now we begin the falling action: a woman standing on the sidewalk demands to know what the MC is doing. He explains he’s a cop and saw the robot running away, and so, “naturally” assumed it had stolen the purse. The woman explains that the robot was bringing her asthma medication to her because she’d forgotten to put it in her bag (Aristotle’s sudden reversal, where what was assumed to be good is suddenly bad). Finally, the catastrophe, as the onlookers turn away and the ‘hero’ is dismissed by the public as a fool.
It’s just a couple of scenes that begin a story, but I think it’s instructive in ‘showing’ those of us who are contemplating trying to write such things how it’s done in a visual form that’s easily comprehended. Also, the MC’s dialogue with the woman is a perfect example of character development in a few words. One other point I’d like to add, it’s obvious that the climax of a story does not usually occur in the middle of the story, although it could. So, the rising leg of Freytag’s pyramid is usually going to be longer than the falling leg.
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
Climax as Freytag uses the term differs from how the term is used today by readers and writers or at least how he perceives the term and its points for developing tension. He means the four-fold circumstances in a narrative where, as pertains to the dramatic complication, forces in opposition are greatest (want and problem antagonism), efforts to satisfy the complication are greatest, all is known that's salient at the moment about the dramatic complication, and doubt about the outcome of the dramatic complication is greatest. The four circumstances often occur in one scene and may overlap or be portrayed in sequence.
Readers and writers mostly believe the climax of a narrative whole or part falls at the three-quarters or thereabouts mark; for the whole at the end of the falling action act, during the transformation crisis, or force of the final suspense according to Freytag's label, and before denouement; or the catastrophe as Freytag also labels the final act of an Aristotlean tragedy. J.R.R. Tolkien labels the final act of an Aristotlean comedy a eucatastrophe; meaning likewise a sudden reversal identical to a peripetia.
And the final act in other terms is the denouement or final outcome of the dramatic complication.
Writers and readers feel the force of the final suspense is the climax turn, and as far as emotional response is concerned, it is the emotional climax. But Freytag means the tension climax. Preceding and setting up readers' emotional response by building the tension climax about midway through a narrative, and its individual dramatic units (scenes), is the height of dramatic narrative. Readers have an oh-no, say it isn't so feeling after midway through that the dramatic complication won't turn out as desired, raising doubt through bringing forth the tragic force or crisis after the tension climax when the ouctome seems assured.
Consider the Freytag pyramid more akin to a ziggurat, with each terrace riser representing rising or falling tension, and each terrace tread as a tension relief. Gosh, it seeems like satisfaction is immediately pending, high tension, then, bam, a minor or major turn (reversal) shows it is not so. More effort will be necessary to satisfy the dramatic complication. The oscillations of effort, discovery, relief, and reversal are the engines of tension.
[ April 28, 2013, 01:11 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by Grumpy old guy (Member # 9922) on :
extrinsic, at my stage of development in the art of writing, I'll settle for the current definition of climax. When I'm more experienced, then I'll try the more nuanced approach to climax; the psychological.
But your post has added some extra illumination to the path I'm slowly meandering along.