What Is Plot? The 6 Elements of Plot and How to Use Them

This post contains an excerpt from our book The Write Structure. Find out more here.

To do this, well take a look at a few examples of how these aspects work in successful stories, and well discuss story arcs, the different shapes a plot of a story can take, and how you can utilize your new understanding of plot in your own stories.

In this guide, were going to talk about plot. Ill share a broad introduction of what plot is and youll discover the 6 components of plot that make story structure memorable and amusing.

Do you desire readers to love your story? To choose up your book and be so immersed in the elements of plot that they will not have the ability to put it down?

What Is Plot? Plot Definition

Plot is a sequence of occasions in a story in which the primary character is put into a tough scenario that requires a character to make increasingly challenging options, driving the story toward a climactic occasion and resolution.

What are the 6 Elements of Plot?

We will define each below, but here are the six aspects of plot:

These aspects are the major occasions in a story, and theyre necessary in all imaginative writing, whether youre writing an unique, screenplay, memoir, brief story, or other type. Even competent writers who do not utilize these purposefully are integrating them into their composing subconsciously because they are what brings movement, dispute, action, and life to stories.

Inciting Incident
Rising Action or Progressive Complications

The mouse consumed a cookie isnt a plot– its simply a story (albeit a charming story).

Story vs. Plot

In Aspects of Novel, E.M. Forster makes a difference in between “story” and “plot.” A story simply an occasion, practically a recitation of realities.

On the other hand, the mouse ate a cookie and then asked for a glass of milk is a plot since its causal. Ill let Forster explain it much better:

We have defined a story as a narrative of events set up in their time-sequence. A plot is also a story of occasions, the focus falling on causality. The king died and then the queen died, is a story.

To trim that down:

Hemingways famous six-word story is an amazing example of plot: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Why are they for sale? Its so sad) because the infant never ever used them (and oh. These arent disconnected realities; this is actually a mini plot. More on that in a moment.

The king passed away and after that the queen passed away is a story.
The king died and then the queen died of grief is a plot because its causal and connected.

How Plot Works

To put it simply, its not simply a recitation of realities; the facts you consist of in your plot each have a function, putting a character into a scenario where they must make a choice and pulling the story toward its conclusion.

Plot has a particular structure. It follows a format that draws readers in; introduces characters, character development, and world building; and obliges readers to keep reading in order to satisfy conflict and answer concerns.

Plot has to do with domino effect, however, most significantly, plot is about option, a characters option.

The 6 Elements of Plot

Does anyone else seem like this puzzle piece is closing a hole in the universe or something? Simply me? Excessive Dr. Who, I guess.

The elements of plot are like puzzle pieces. You need to see the shape of each part and fit them into their appropriate place if you desire your reader to see the final photo.

So how do you construct a plot with this cause-and-effect thing? The response is basic: you break plot down into its components.

Plot is a series of occasions in a story in which the primary character is taken into a difficult scenario that forces a character to make significantly difficult options, driving the story towards a climactic occasion and resolution.

In The Write Structure, we discuss the six aspects of plot:

At the beginning of the story, the exposition establishes characters and setting. Not all your world-building occurs here, but this is where you reveal your readers what “typical” is for your characters. That method, readers will know whats incorrect when we hit the next action.

2. Prompting Incident. The prompting incident is an event in a story that throws the primary character into a challenging situation, disturbing the status quo and beginning the storys motion, either in a favorable way or negative. This movement culminates in the climax and denouement. Find out more in our full prompting incident guide here.

3. Rising action, or Progressive Complications. This is the biggest part of the story, and where most of the dispute takes location. You understand that quote about getting your characters up a tree, then tossing rocks at them? This is rock-throwing time. Heres where you raise the stakes and start developing to the storys climax. Its important that your readers know whats at stake here; its also important that they clearly understand the dispute. Find out more our full rising action guide here.

4. Problem (or crisis, according to Story Grid). This is the most important element, what youve been developing towards, the moment when a character is put into a scenario where they should make an impossible choice. Discover more in our complete issue guide here.

5. Climax. This is the huge minute! The characters option from the issue drives the result of the dispute. If you did it right, this is the worst (i.e. finest) moment of stress in the whole story, setting your readers on edge. Discover more in our complete climax guide here.

While we salute Freytag for bringing language to these plot points, we think Freytags Pyramid is an outdated and misconstrued plot framework. You can learn more about Freytags Pyramid and whether you should use it in our guide on the five act structure here.

Historic Note: One of the earliest writers to discuss this structure was Gustav Freytag, the German author who composed in the middle of the 19th century. His structure ended up being known as Freytags Pyramid, and he was the first to discuss much of five aspects of plot we go over above.

Now, at the end of the story, youre establishing “typical” all over once again– but the new typical, integrating the modifications and experiences of your characters. Your readers can sit with your characters a little in their brand-new typical, mentally wrapping everything up so your reader can put the book away without turning back through the pages to see what they missed. Its a scene-closure with sufficient finality to be worthy of those 2 words: The End.

What about the Falling Action?

In The Write Structure, the plot structure weve developed at The Write Practice, we dont use the plot point falling action, which you may see in other structures.

Why do exclude it?

Falling action is generally described as the events to unwind the plot after the climax, however in many stories, the climax happens near completion of a story, normally in the third to last scene. Thus, the falling action and denouement are practically identical.

You can discover more about why we do not consider falling action a plot aspect here.

To prevent confusion, we believe the falling action needs to be phased out from usage as an aspect of plot.

Do Short Stories Have These Elements?

Yes! Every scene and every act in a story should have each of these elements.

In a short story, nevertheless, these components will be always abbreviated. For instance, where increasing action may have numerous problems in a novel, it may only have one complication in a brief story.

Plot Diagrams: Story Arcs Can Have Many Shapes

While all plots have a set structure, they can have lots of shapes or arcs.

Story arc describes the shape of a plot diagram. Here are some of the most common:

The inciting occurrence presses the character into a hole, a problem that aggravates throughout the increasing action. The turning point of the story comes at some point in the middle of the increasing action (sometimes called the midpoint) when the primary character begins to get themselves out of the hole.

Another story arc with a pleased ending, one specifically popular in romantic funnies, is the Cinderella arc, in which the primary character is in an extremely bad location at the start of the story. The prompting incident for this story arc is actually a positive event, often a satisfy cute or a possible chance.

Its constructed on a misunderstanding of how plots move. All stories do not follow this specific shape, and by forcing stories into this shape, we just trigger confusion.

The one requirement is that a story needs to move, there must be some sort of modification, but the shape that story takes is extensively variable.

Like the guy in the hole story arc, the prompting event in a double man in a hole arc pushes the main character into a hole, a problem or scenario. The increasing action of this story arc contains a great deal of motion, as the issue intensifies before reaching a turning point (in some cases called a pinch point) when things start to improve before reaching the midpoint. Things soon after descend into another hole, maybe triggered by the exact same issue or a new one. The issue occurs eventually in this 2nd hole, likely at or near the bottom, followed by the climax, and pleased ending resolution.

This last plot diagram might be the most identifiable, because its the shape that is used most to plot, stemming with Freytag himself.

The Icarus arc is essential tragedy, about a character who begins low in the exposition, and whos fortunes start to enhance after an inciting incident. Things continue to improve in the rising action, culminating in a midpoint turning point, when things begin to go terribly wrong. As the protagonist has a hard time to hold on to their good luck, it increases the unravelling right up to the problem and final, inescapable terrible climax and resolution.

For more on this, consisting of the 6 main shapes stories can take, plus the three bestselling story arcs, check out our full story arc guide here.

Can Your Story Have More than One Plot? Main Plots, Subplots, and Internal Plots

Many fantastic stories, if you dissect them, are comprised on not one however two or 3 plots. You have:

( By the way, K.M. Weiland has an unbelievable database of stories in which she breaks down the plots of books and films alike. Inspect it out and enjoy.).

Inciting Incident: Harry is sent a letter that, we discover later, accepts him into Hogwarts, an academy of magic, sending out the Dursleys, who reject the presence of magic, into a fit, and triggering Mr. Dursley to seize the letters.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.


Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone by J. K. Rowling.

For Exposition: What is “typical” at the start of this book? Keep in mind, your character needs to change and grow, and the loss of this regular is part of the rate paid.
For Inciting Incident: What kind of story are you telling? Each story type has an unique kind of inciting occurrence, and its great to be familiar with them. Check our inciting occurrence guide for all the types.
For Resolution: What is “normal” at the end of this book? If youre writing a series, heres where youre developing what “normal” will look like in the start of book 2.
For Rising Action: Whats at stake? Whats the cost if your lead character blows it? If you cant answer this, your reader wont be able to, either. It needs to be constructed up enough that your reader cares. It can be excellent to keep a list of the problems and concerns youre producing in here; theres nothing more gratifying than to have all the little loose ends concluded later.
For the Climax: How does it all cap in the climax? This requires to mentally be the core of whatever youve developed to, and the stakes require to be in authentic danger. If theres no real risk, then theres no factor for your reader to care; this climax has to matter, even if its about something as simple as selling sufficient publications to send a little lady to camp.

In my experience, examples drive a point home. Lets take a look at a few stories and break down their plots.

Do you fight with any of the components of plot? Let me know in the remarks.

Rising action/progressive problems: We fulfill Hagrid who puts an end to the Dursleys reign of terror; we go buying school materials; we learn about Voldemort; we show up in Hogwarts; and theres a giant loose in the dungeons. Our heroes recognize that all the strange things happening in Hogwarts involve Voldemort.

The prompting incident is an event in a story that throws the main character into a difficult scenario, distressing the status quo and beginning the storys movement, either in a positive way or negative. The turning point of the story comes at some point in the middle of the rising action (in some cases called the midpoint) when the primary character begins to get themselves out of the hole. Like the male in the hole story arc, the inciting event in a double man in a hole arc presses the main character into a hole, a problem or scenario. Another story arc with a happy ending, one particularly popular in romantic comedies, is the Cinderella arc, in which the main character is in an extremely bad location at the start of the story. Take one of the components of plot (exposition, prompting occurrence, rising action, climax, denouement), and show that point in your story.

Exposition: Were introduced to the town of Maycomb, to the Finch family (Atticus, Scout, and Jem), and to the setup of bigotry in the deep south of 1930s Great Depression America.
Inciting Incident: Atticus, a legal representative, accepts protect Tom, a black man, on charges of raping a white woman– placing him in direct conflict with basically everybody in the town, particularly Bob Ewell, the father of the white woman implicating Tom.
Increasing Action, Progressive Complications: The examination and then the trial occurs. A mob attempts to lynch Tom, up until Scout diffuses the situation. The courtroom scene. Oops. Racism wins out over justice, and it appears like Tom is going to be carried out.
Issue: Scout must decide whether to quit hope in mankind and the possibility of real justice (like Jem) and wind up mistrustful and jaded, or continue hoping that people can be excellent (like Atticus) and danger being naivety and frustration.
Climax: Bob Ewell, embarrassed by the trial, promises vengeance, confronting Jem and Scout at night on their method house alone. In the tried escape and battle, Scout breaks her arm. However, Boo Radley, their hermit next-door neighbor, saves them, finally giving Scout the possibility to see him.
Resolution: At the end of the story, Scout reaches a complex and sincere however uncomfortable conclusion: everyone is an individual with good and bad to them, and oppression is unfortunately a deeply deep-rooted part of the system. Scout has actually grown in maturity, even at the cost of her innocence.

Very popular author. Owner of lots of things that require to be plugged in.

Understood as Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone to those familiar with the U.K. variation.

Plot Questions to Ask Yourself.

Resolution: Harry gets up in the hospital wing. The major issue of the story was dealt with in the climax, however now, Dumbledore concludes the couple of loose ends, tells Harry what occurred after, and shares some of the effects of Harrys decisions. (” What took place down in the dungeons between you and Professor Quirrell is a complete secret, so, naturally the entire school knows” is one of my preferred lines in any book ever.) Oh, and the Gryffindors Win Everything. Then, hes heading back home, eagerly anticipating next year, and while there are still concerns and obstacles ahead of him, enough has actually been dealt with that the reader can put the book down with a satisfied sigh. (Or in my case, turn right back to page one and start once again. Ahem.) Harrys new normal has been developed.

The Components of Plot: Examples.

I recommend checking out our complete subplot guide here if you desire to discover more about how to use subplots.

Exposition: Were introduced to the Dursleys and to Harry, our protagonist and main character.

So how do you attain this remarkable plot structure? There are a couple of basic questions to ask yourself about every scene that can assist you whittle away issues and link what requires connecting.

Dilemma: do Harry and his friends enter into the dungeon to conserve the sorcerers stone and danger possible death and almost certain expulsion, or do they reverse and allow Voldemort to capture the stone and go back to full strength.

Climax: Holy crap, (SPOILER, if you in some way have not read this book) its Quirrel! All the dispute and concerns have actually caused this point; we see Rons abilities with chess and Hermiones uncommon intelligence combined with Harrys flying skills to result in this remarkable moment, in which Harry has to choose: to side with evil and perhaps get his moms and dads back, or pick to continue to suffer that sorrow and battle the evil bad person.

Ruthanne Reid.

The Main Plot, which consists of the majority of the scenes of the story
The Subplot, while not the main plot, generally deepens the story and includes another dimension (romance comprise approximately ninety percent of subplots).
The Internal Plot, which reveals the development of the primary character as they grow in maturity or selflessness.

Take one of the elements of plot (exposition, inciting occurrence, rising action, climax, denouement), and show that point in your story. Dont forget to leave feedback for your fellow writers!Read our full exposition guide here.

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