Developing Rising Action to Build Tension

Crafting an engaging narrative isn’t as easy as you might think. It involves more than just telling a story; it’s about creating a journey for your readers to fall in love with.

That experience should start from the story’s beginning and lead the reader toward the climax, and one of the key elements that make this journey engaging is the rising action. Rising action adds depth, builds tension, and keeps your readers on their toes. It’s the literary equivalent of saying, “But wait! There’s more!”

Understanding Rising Action and Its Role in Storytelling


The rising action encompasses the events in your story leading up to the most exciting part of the narrative, usually the climax. This progression almost always includes conflicts and challenges the main characters face, heightening the story’s suspense, tension, and interest.

Basically, it’s what makes a reader say, “Oh, my gosh! I need to keep reading to see where this goes!”

The Role of Conflict in Rising Action

Conflict is a must-have ingredient when building the rising action in your book. It introduces obstacles that the protagonist must overcome and drives the narrative forward. You can do this with an internal conflict within the protagonist, such as fear or guilt, as well as external conflicts involving other characters, nature or even societal forces.

By incorporating various forms of conflict, you add depth and tension to your story, compelling readers to engage with the protagonist’s journey.

Creating Effective Rising Action: Key Elements

To craft compelling rising action in your story, consider these key elements:

  1. Conflict: This is the heart and soul of the rising action in a story. It creates tension and challenges that push the characters to evolve. Create conflict, have the characters overcome it, then introduce the next conflict they must face. Think of conflict as the rungs of a ladder.
  2. Complications: These twists and turns make the conflict more difficult to resolve. To follow the visual I suggested above, think of this as the character slipping and falling a few rungs on the ladder.
  3. Character reactions: How your characters react to these complications adds depth to their personality and makes them relatable to the readers. Do they muster up the strength to climb back up the ladder? Or do they give in and fall even further? Does someone come along to help them?

Techniques for Building Tension in Your Story

Building tension is a fine art that can be achieved through:

  • Pacing: The speed at which your story unfolds can heighten tension. Fast-paced sequences can create a sense of urgency, while slow pacing can build suspense.
  • Foreshadowing: Subtle hints about future events can spark curiosity and build tension.
  • Dilemma: Placing your characters in difficult situations can create emotional tension.

Case Studies: Analyzing Rising Action in Popular Literature

Consider these examples of rising action:

  1. In the first “Harry Potter” book, the rising action involves Harry discovering he’s a wizard, attending Hogwarts, learning about the Philosopher’s Stone, and facing various dangers, culminating in the confrontation with Voldemort.
  2. In “The Hunger Games,” the rising action includes Katniss’s preparation for the games and the initial stages of the games themselves.

Balancing Rising Action With Character Development

Rising action should not only progress the plot but also contribute to character development. As characters face conflicts, they should grow and evolve, and their reactions and decisions should reflect this growth.

Common Mistakes to Avoid While Creating Rising Action

  • Overcomplicating the plot: While conflicts add intrigue, too many can confuse the reader and dilute the main plot.
  • Creating unnecessary drama: Ensure that each conflict contributes to the overall story and isn’t just there for shock value.
  • Neglecting character development: Character reactions and growth are as essential in rising action as the conflicts themselves.

Practical Tips for Writing Engaging Rising Action

  1. Create relatable conflicts: The more your readers can empathize with your characters’ conflicts, the more engaged they will be.
  2. Pace your story effectively: Balance intense moments with quieter ones for a more balanced narrative.
  3. Utilize foreshadowing: This can create anticipation and keep readers hooked.

Build Them and Knock Them Down

Developing effective rising action is a crucial aspect of storytelling. It advances the plot, develops your characters, and keeps your readers engaged. With a good understanding and thoughtful application of this narrative device, your story will have the power to captivate your readers from beginning to end.

Exercise: Identifying Rising Action and Building Tension

Instruction: Identify the rising action in each scenario and suggest how you might build tension from there.

  1. A woman comes home to find her apartment door slightly ajar. She’s certain she locked it when she left. As she steps inside, she notices a light flickering in her bedroom.
  2. A young man applies for a job he’s not entirely qualified for. After a surprisingly successful interview, he’s asked to take a challenging test.
  3. The skilled sailor embarks on a solo trip. But after a storm, he finds his navigation equipment has stopped working.

Answer Key
  1. Rising Action: The woman finds her apartment door open and a light flickering in her bedroom. Building tension: Describe her growing fear and suspicion, emphasize the silence, or introduce eerie sounds.
  2. Rising Action: The young man is asked to take a test after the interview. Building tension: Describe his anxiety and doubt, revealing that the test includes tasks he’s never done before.
  3. Rising Action: The sailor finds his navigation equipment not working after a storm. Building tension: Describe the increasing panic, his attempts to fix the equipment, or the impending nightfall.