All the world’s a stage, as Shakespeare said, and in the course of watching the play, if you watch closely, you will see that some travel on the upward path, some fall calamitously, and some do both and in no particular order. As so many others have said: life is a journey, and in examining journey plots we must not miss out on where life takes us.
No single story has probably received more derision that the story of Horatio Alger. Yet as an archetype plotline, no story has likely been copied quite so often. No film has honestly received more praise than Citizen Kane, yet if you look closely, the thrust of both Horatio Alger and Citizen Kane is the same. One man, from (relatively) humble beginnings makes good in the world. The virtue of Citizen Kane was in adding the “Rosebud” ending, but whether or not your character will be content in the end to live a simple, humble life and drive a taxi, only Somerset Maugham knows for sure.
Generally, this plot begins with some kind of Great Expectations. The upward direction, however, is invariably set by some virtue on the part of the young man or woman that makes us want to see them succeed. This is true even in this day of ethical relativity. If the person is a scoundrel motivated by greed, a desire for power or some other “un-virtuous” trait, we shall be waiting for them to receive their come-uppance.
The downward spiral is then obviously a matter of some vice or corruption of the character and we are satisfied when they collapse before our eyes. Now, this does not mean the virtue or vice needs to be Horatio Alger obvious. Unless you are rewriting Pilgrim’s Progress, focus on the attributes is not recommended—but they must be there and self-evident in some way to make the plot really sing.
When the rise and fall are both involved, consider how a man or woman can become corrupted at the top, or how one fallen soul can discover virtue at the bottom of the heap and fight their way back to the top, this time to stay!
As with all Journey plots, the stage should be set quickly. Someone is going to move and indeed must move quickly. Take the first forty pages of background and set-up and throw it away. When starting with vice at the top there may be a little space to show how badly this person deserves to fall, but even there the inevitable direction of the journey should be obvious from the start. If they fall, have a redemptive experience and rise back up again, great. But the coming fall should be clear from page one.
In the middle, as with all journey plots, there will be obstacles. To quote myself: “This is where obstacles invariably turn up and the success of the story will to a great extent depend on how well these obstacles are portrayed, how well they relate to the objective and how creative, imaginative and well written the obstacle sequences are.“
In the case of the Rise and Fall, there is a great opportunity to reinforce the deserved direction by moments, words, vignettes, subtle actions that show the virtue or vice of the character rather than tell about it. These would be sort of like clues in the mystery or thriller plots or points of meaning (direction) in the exploration and discovery plots or near misses in the rescue or escape and pursuit plots. These might be called points of revelation in the Rise and Fall plots. Don’t neglect them, especially if the fallen will rise again…
In the end, as with all journey plots, one succeeds or fails. All journey plots arrive somewhere, even if it is not the intended final destination. One of the saddest verses in the Bible says, “and he stopped there.” You see, Abraham’s father, Tera was first called by God to go to the promised land. He got as far as Haran “and he stopped there.” So God called his son, Abram, to finish the journey and now Abraham is considered the father of nations, and I bet you did not even know who Tera was…