Dramatic Arc

The Dramatic Arc is one of the most popular and recognizable narrative structures in Western culture. Also referred to as a classical dramatic structure, this arc has its roots in classical Greek drama. Aristotle declared that plays have a consistent structure of “a beginning, middle, and end” (Wise, 1962). Centuries later, Gustav Freytag, a German dramatist and novelist, expanded Aristotle’s structure (Madej, 2008). Freytag’s pyramid-like diagram of five main tragic stages (Freytag, 1900) evolved into a broadly applicable structure directed toward narratives. The diagram below is an adapted version of multiple variations of the Dramatic Arc (Freytag, 1900; Ohler, 2008).

Visual depiction of the dramatic arc


The Dramatic Arc consists of six basic stages. The precipitating event (inciting incident) introduces a conflict that creates increasing tension (rising action) as the characters deal with a problem. The tension rises to a climax at which point the problem begs for resolution while at the same...

One example of deploying the Dramatic Arc is seen in Teri Balser’s story of finding a different way to approach teaching her subject. As a professor of Soil Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Balser cared about student learning and recognized the lack of enthusiasm that most of her...
Learning Applications

When to apply this structure:
Dramatic Arc narrative describes classical and traditional Western narratives so is prevalent in the literature and film of Western cultures. One key to recognizing or using this structure is that based on the beginning, the end is often expected. It is...