Freytag Revisited

When I was in school, plot diagrams (which I learned later were called Freytag’s pyramids) looked something like this:

Public Domain image from Wikimedia Commons.

There is argument that plot doesn’t rise smoothly from the exposition to the climax, instead containing a number of smaller climaxes where an element of the conflict is settled–that is to say that the reader knows which way something will go for the character. 
 
I took a methods course on teaching Language Arts a few semesters ago, and my professors suggested a different take on the plot diagram. I didn’t think too much of it, until last week when the facilitator for the NM APSI workshop made the same suggestion, then showed us how it worked. Freytag’s Pyramid revised looks something like this: 
 
 


Example: A man dressed in black is running up to a roof with a black briefcase tucked under his arm. As he runs, he glances over his shoulder. When he reaches the far side of the roof, he crouches, opens the briefcase and presses a button. An orange timer appears showing 3:00. The timer begins to count down. 2:59… 2:58… The man looks over his shoulder one more time and runs off toward the fire escape on the other side of the roof.

2:55…

2:54…

He doesn’t make it to the fire escape when another man runs onto the roof and catches him. They fight. The first man pulls out a knife.

2:30…

2:29…

The good guy kicks the knife away and they exchange more blows. The good guy is knocked off his feet. But before the bad guy can get away, the good guy sweeps his legs.

1:45…

1:44…

The bad guy kicks the good guy in the face and the good guy blacks out, giving the bad guy the opportunity to get away.

0:30…

0:29…

The good guy wakes up and sees the clock ticking at 30 seconds. He rushes toward the briefcase and looks around, realizing the bad guy got away. Then he pulls a pair of wire clippers out of his pocket and examines the wires.

0:10…

0:09…

Finally he snips the green wire and breathes a sigh of relief.

0:03.

Was there a climax in that story? What if I said that this scene occurred in the middle of a larger story where the rising action to the final climax was a car chase/huge battle scene?


Because our workshop had an emphasis on vertical teaming, we discussed introducing a simple plot diagram like the one pictured first, when we introduce plot in the sixth grade, then working with the students, building and extending on their prior knowledge and introducing the second plot diagram later on.


Ayn Grubb, our presenter, has a neat lesson using the first 15 minutes of Indiana Jones, Raiders of the Lost Ark to talk about suspense, climaxes, characterization, and other elements of plot. It can be found on pages 26-33 of this handout (link to a PDF).

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