Gustav Freytag read voraciously as a young boy growing up in Kluczbork a small town in southwestern Poland. Little would have he known that his middle-class values will help him later in his life to bring engaging realism to portray the struggles and triumphs of rising middle-class in his novels. Gustav abandoned his teaching career to follow his passion for writing & scholarship. In 1863 Gustav made his greatest contribution to the world with Freytag’s Pyramid, a storytelling framework.
Freytag’s Pyramid provides a structure to a dynamic work of art such as play or film. Gustav modeled his Pyramid on Aristotle’s Poetics. Aristotle’s model used a triangle with beginning, middle and end. Freytag’s model divided any plot into five parts: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouncement.
The exposition provides the background information of a story or a plot. Exposition can be used to convey the characters back stories, events before the main story and the setting.
Rising action includes a series of events that occur after the exposition. The climax follows rising action.
The climax is the turning point in a story and usually alters the path of the story or unfolds the plot for the viewers.
Falling action showcases the conflict between the protagonist and antagonist. It could also involve the final moments of suspense in which the outcome of the conflict is in doubt.
Denouncement comprises a series of event which signifies the end of falling action to the actual ending scene of the drama of narrative.
Freytag’s Pyramid follows a five stage-plot structure while Aristotle’s Poetics follows a three-stage structure. Freytag’s Pyramid can’t be applied to modern plays as they can have 26 – 30 parts without concrete acts.
Screenwriter today combine plot with plot structure to create the treatment. Treatment divides a story into three sections: setup, confrontation, and resolution. The treatment uses a three-plot structure as described by American Screenwriter, Syd Field. Author, Micheal Hauge’s six plot structure builds on Syed Fields work. Six plot structure divides the acts further by connecting the stages and turning points.
Using the Storytelling Framework
So how do you use the storytelling framework? Storytelling frameworks can be used to analyze plots and stories to understand how the viewers would react to it.
American Television Writer, Douglas Heyes said: “What’s happening now must be inherently more interesting than what just happened.” If you aim to elicit a response from the viewer, then your story has to become more compelling as it moves forward.
What’s happening now must be inherently more interesting than what just happened.
– Douglas Heyes, American Television Writer
UK-based retailer John Lewis’s commercial titled ‘Buster the Boxer’ keeps the views engaged till the end. The commercial follows a three-plot structure.
DON’T BE CONFINED TO THE storytelling framework
Pay close attention to the story structure but don’t be confined to it. For instance, Harry Potter & Deathly Hallows has a lengthy denouncement portion as it also covers the character’s story even after the conflict ends.
Brands are also experimenting with non-linear storytelling techniques where the user’s action will determine the outcome. Non-linear storytelling can have multiple or more resolutions to a conflict. Branching narrative is the most commonly used non-linear storytelling technique. Director, Christopher Nolan uses this technique extensively in his films.
The narrative would change based on a users choice which could be triggered by a choice made, or a preference shared when they sign-up for the product/service. Programmatic advertising is already helping brands to use contextual signals to target ads that are engaging and compelling for the audience.
Using Stories for tactical campaigns
With new formats like Facebook Carousal, Instagram Stories and Snapchat Stories brand have the option of crafting stories for direct response creatives. TYME used Facebook Carousal ads to showcase product usage. Similarly, you can consider your campaign to be a storyline and place content as part of a sequence or a plot to keep the viewers engaged.
Plotting & Crafting Stories
Author, Stephen King in his memoir ‘On Writing,’ suggests that there are only three parts to a great story: narration which moves the story from point A to B and to point Z; description which creates a sensory reality for the reader; and dialogues which bring characters to life through their speech.
A good description starts in the writer’s imagination and ends in the readers.
– Stephen King, American Author
Stephen doesn’t believe in plotting as he suggests that stories pretty much form themselves. For being a great storyteller, you have to sometimes rely on your intuition. Of the three parts, description is the most difficult as it makes the reader a sensory participant in the story. A good description starts in the writer’s imagination and ends in the readers. If you intend to tell a great story and if you do it with utmost honesty, then readers will connect to it.