The Fichtean Curve is a narrative structure that represents a form of storytelling quite different from the more commonly known three-act structure.

Named after the German philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte, though it should be noted that Fichte himself was not directly involved in creating this narrative model; rather, his ideas influenced subsequent thinkers who developed the concept.

The Fichtean Curve is designed to reflect a more dynamic and constant back-and-forth conflict throughout a story, rather than the traditional structure of setup, confrontation, and resolution.

It’s characterised by a series of rising and falling actions, each building upon the previous conflict and escalating the tension and stakes of the narrative.

Here’s how the Fichtean Curve typically plays out in a story:

  • Introduction: The story begins with an inciting incident, which sets the main character on a path of conflict and action.
  • Rising Action and Conflict: Instead of a single line of rising action, the Fichtean Curve involves multiple smaller peaks and valleys of tension. After the initial incident, the protagonist faces a series of obstacles, each leading to a minor climax.
  • Reactive and Proactive Phases: The protagonist alternates between reacting to events and taking proactive steps to deal with the central conflict. This back-and-forth creates a zigzagging effect on the narrative’s tension.
  • Climactic Moment: The highest peak of the Fichtean Curve is the climactic moment where the conflict reaches its maximum tension and the outcome is decided.
  • Falling Action and Resolution: Following the climax, the falling action leads to a resolution where the consequences of the climax are dealt with, and a new equilibrium is established.

The Fichtean Curve is known for creating a more naturalistic flow of narrative, imitating the unpredictable nature of real-life events and conflicts.

It’s often used in genres that emphasise suspense and tension, where the story is propelled by a series of crises and the protagonist’s responses to each new challenge.

The frequent oscillation between action and reaction in the narrative helps maintain a high level of reader or audience engagement.

What are the challenges of using the Fichtean curve?

Using the Fichtean Curve as a narrative structure can help you build a rich and engaging story experience, but it also has some very specific challenges.

The constant rise and fall of action can make plotting more complex compared to the more straightforward three-act structure.

It requires careful planning to ensure that each successive peak and trough in the narrative builds upon the last and contributes meaningfully to the story’s progression.

Managing the pace is crucial and can be difficult in a Fichtean Curve.

You need to maintain a balance between tension and relief, avoiding both a relentless onslaught of conflict that fatigues the reader and insufficient escalation that bores them.

The focus on external conflict might overshadow character development.

You need to work diligently to ensure that the internal journey of the characters is not lost amidst the back-and-forth of the external conflict.

With a series of crises, there’s a risk that the story can become implausible or melodramatic.

Each conflict needs to feel genuine and not just a contrived obstacle for the sake of action.

There’s a delicate balance between keeping readers engaged and overwhelming them. Too many peaks can desensitise your reader to the tension, making each successive conflict feel less significant.

After a high-intensity ride, the resolution must provide adequate closure and satisfaction, which can be challenging after setting up such high stakes and continuous action.

Some genres might not lend themselves well to the Fichtean Curve, especially those where readers expect a slower, more deliberate pace, or a clear, linear progression of plot.

When used effectively, the Fichtean Curve can make for a gripping and nuanced story.

But I will say that it takes a skilled writer to execute this structure without losing coherence, emotional impact, and reader engagement.

The Fichtean Curve is not often used.

Outshined by more straightforward outlines like the hero’s journey and the three-act structure, the Fichtean Curve isn’t used nearly as much.

But if you want to delve into an example of writing that could be seen as fitting more into the Fichtean Curve, consider the A Song of Ice and Fire-series by George R.R. Martin.

The story doesn’t follow a single Fichtean Curve but rather multiple curves, as it consists of a number of intertwined character arcs, each with their own series of conflicts and resolutions.

  • Multiple introductions: Each chapter is told from the perspective of a different character, each with their own inciting incidents that drive them into the narrative.
  • Rising action and conflict: The book is characterised by a series of escalating conflicts that affect each character. There’s a continuous build-up of political tension, betrayal, and mystery, which keeps the story moving forward.
  • Reactive and proactive Phases: Characters are constantly reacting to the actions of others and the consequences of their own decisions. They also make proactive choices that shift the course of the narrative.
  • Climactic moments: Each character arc has its own climactic moments. For example, the death of Eddard Stark is a significant climax that takes place early in the story and has wide-reaching effects on the rest of the series.
  • Falling action and resolution: While individual chapters often end with a resolution to a conflict, the overarching story rarely resets to a calm state. Instead, new conflicts arise as soon as old ones are resolved, characters always moving on some kind of collision trajectory with each other, maintaining a high level of tension.

ASOIAF employs a complex, multi-threaded approach to the Fichtean Curve, with the traditional narrative peaks and troughs happening on both a micro level (within chapters and character arcs) and a macro level (across the entire series).

This structure helps to create a rich, dynamic world with an unpredictable and engaging storyline.

Where does the Fichtean Curve come from?

Johann Gottlieb Fichte, a German philosopher, who’s work is known for its focus on the subjective experience and the self’s role in constructing reality.

Although Fichte himself did not create a narrative structure, his philosophical ideas about the nature of self and reality could be interpreted as a metaphor for the dynamic interplay of action and reaction in storytelling.

The Fichtean Curve may have been developed or adopted by writers and educators who see Fichte’s emphasis on tension and conflict as a model for creating engaging narratives.

It captures the essence of a story that thrives on constant conflict, with characters facing a series of challenges that keep readers engaged.

The structure emphasises a rhythm of narrative tension that rises and falls, leading to a climactic point, followed by a resolution.

This mirrors the action-reaction dichotomy in human experience, which could be philosophically tied to Fichte’s ideas.

However, the application of the Fichtean Curve to storytelling is a contemporary interpretation and not a direct result of Fichte’s philosophy.

In the context of narrative theory, the Fichtean Curve is a less conventional term and you might not find it in academic texts or classical studies on narrative forms.

It’s more likely to be referenced in modern storytelling workshops or writing guides that aim to present alternative structures to the traditional ones, with an emphasis on maintaining high levels of tension and engagement.

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