Rising Action: An Essential Element of Plot

Rising Action: An Essential Element of Plot

I recently read Lionheart by Ben Kane. This is historical fiction that is, unsurprisingly, about Richard the Lionhearted. The book is well written enough that I finished it. However, reading it made me realize the problems presented by some kinds of plot lines when the author tries to achieve rising action.

Repeated plot elements

Richard the Lionhearted is a fascinating historical character. We’re probably all familiar with him at least from tales about Robin Hood, who struggled against oppression in the years while Richard is away on crusade. In his absence, the country is ruled by his younger brother, John. Typically, Richard is valorized and John is treated as a weasel. This book is no exception to that rule.

But this book takes place before the crusade years in the period leading up to Richard being crowned king. He’s a respected warrior at this point, one who’s fighting battles on a number of fronts—against the French, against the Welsh, and sometimes against his father, Henry II, and three brothers. Given this historical reality, the book’s action is largely a series of campaigns.

The need for varied obstacles

This violates one of the usual expectations of plot. That is that it will provide rising action. Typically, when a character overcomes an obstacle, readers expect them to then face an obstacle that’s not only harder, but also somewhat different. If the character has just climbed a mountain, we’re not impressed if his next action is simply to climb a higher one.

Point of view as means to build plot

Kane tries to overcome this limitation by telling the story from the point of view of Ferdia (aka Rufus). Ferdia is a young Irish nobleman, given to England as a hostage against his family’s good behavior.

Kane builds rising action by giving Ferdia a personal enemy, who presents rising danger throughout the book. It’s Ferdia who changes and develops as a consequence of the story and thus fulfills our expectations that a story is a change agent. Richard the Lionhearted might be a warrior first, last, and always, but Ferdia grows.

This book would be much less compelling if it were told from Richard’s point of view. That choice, plus the interesting historical detail, are what make the book a strong read.

Consider changing the point of view

If you’re having problems creating a strong plot, the difficulty may lie in who is telling the story. Consider changing the point of view character and seeing if that helps.


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