Story Arc

… a core concept in Communication Skills and Atlas 109


Story arcs: Freytag’s pyramid and Duarte’s 3-part structure

Concept description

Stories tend to follow a universal structure, known as a story arc (also called a narrative arc, or story pyramid).

The Nineteenth Century German novelist Gustav Freytag described the story arc (or pyramid, as illustrated on the right) in terms of seven elements:

  1. Exposition: setting the scene. The writer introduces the characters and setting, providing description and background.
  2. Inciting Incident: something happens to begin the action. A single event usually signals the beginning of the main conflict. The inciting incident is sometimes called ‘the complication’.
  3. Rising Action: the story builds and gets more exciting.
  4. Climax: the moment of greatest tension in a story. This is often the most exciting event. It is the event that the rising action builds up to and that the falling action follows.
  5. Falling Action: events happen as a result of the climax and we know that the story will soon end.
  6. Resolution: the character solves the main problem/conflict or someone solves it for him or her.
  7. Dénouement: the ending. At this point, any remaining secrets, questions or mysteries which remain after the resolution are solved by the characters or explained by the author.

In her 2010 TEDxEast Talk on using the persuasive power of stories to change the world (, accessed 22 January 2016) Nancy Duarte referenced Freytag’s dramatic structure and added her 3-part structure of:

  1. Likable hero
  2. Encounters roadblocks
  3. Emerges transformed

Composition Logic, How to Communicate Science Using a Story Arc, at, accessed 2 February 2016.


Ohio University, English 250 Fiction Unit: Freytag’s Pyramid, at; Nancy Duarte, 2010 TEDxEast talk at, accessed 22 January 2016.

Normed topic and synthetic course with which the concept is primarily associated

This concept is primarily associated with the core normed topic Principles of Persuasion and is included in the synthetic course outline Atlas109 Leadership and Communication Skills.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 2 February 2016.

Image: Ohio University, English 250 Fiction Unit: Freytag’s Pyramid, at and Nancy Duarte, 2010 TEDxEast talk at, accessed 22 January 2016.