Your story: Thrusts and counterthrusts

In a sense, every story is a race against time. The main character ultimately must reach a point where the situation he finds himself in is unbearable, where a turning point or a final decision must be reached. The space between when this situation or crisis is introduced (the inciting incident) until when the turning point or final decision is reached (the climax) is known as rising action. Sometimes this part of the story is referred to as “complications.”

During the rising action, the main character tries to resolve his central problem but is unable to. The rising action includes the twist and turns of the story. In many ways, for the man character the rising action is like going up a hill – hence the “rising” – but he faces obstacles as doing so – hence the “action.” Each instance of the main character attempting to solve the central problem but failing is known as a “dark moment.”

To better understand rising action, consider the “Star Trek: The Original Series” episode “Mirror, Mirror” in which Captain Kirk and his landing party are transported into a mirror universe where the Federation is an empire and people behave more like pirates than civilized men. The opening few minutes of the episode in which Kirk and landing party, as being beamed aboard during an ion storm until realizing they’re no longer on their own Enterprise, marks the inciting incident. The rising action immediately begins as they try to resolve the problem of how to get home. First they must figure out where they are. Then Kirk must avoid an attempt on his life. Next his landing party must jury rig the transporter so they can be returned to their own universe. A race against time begins as they have a window of only a few hours to make the return beam out and as the mirror Spock has orders to kill Kirk by dawn. Then the mirror Spock and the mirror Sulu each try to kill Kirk. We reach the climax of the story when the mirror Spock cuts off their transporter power with only moments to go before their beam out window closes.

Kirk and his landing party face a number of obstacles that prevent them from resolving their central problem. Twists and turns, such as the attempt on Kirk’s life, add dramatic tension to the story. This tension grows until our heroes are faced with only two possibilities: either they will solve the central problem or utterly fail. At that point, the story enters its climax, usually near the story’s end.

When the main character attempts to take charge of a situation and overcome his central problem, the author has created a scene in the rising action. This effort by the main character is called a “counterthrust.” In many ways, a story’s rising action is a series of thrusts and counterthrusts – the antagonist attempts to create an intolerable situation, or makes a thrust, and the protagonist (the main character) counters to restore a tolerable order.