The Basics of Story: Plot

Learn all you need about plot to get writing your next story. Click through for the five stages of plot so you're writing like a pro.

In preparation for NaNoWriMo coming up next month (!!!!!) I’m doing a new series this month! If you’ve never tried your hand at writing a 50,000-word novel in a month, or if you just want a refresher on the basics, then this series is for you. I’ll be writing about the Basics of Story.

There are several parts to any good story. As a reader, I’m sure you know what sort of characters, plots, settings, etc, make for your ideal story. In this series, I’m breaking the elements of story down so you can be well prepared and well equipped to bust out several thousand words in November.

Don’t miss the two follow up posts on Character and Setting!

Sound good? We’re starting with what many would argue is the most important part of a good story: plot. Plot is what carries your characters through their world, what carries your reader through the tale you want to tell.

You can have a lackluster setting, boring and cliche characters, and rickety dialogue and still have a bestseller on your hands if you have an intriguing, riveting, or unique plot.

Plot could literally save your story from near death. It might not make a full recovery, but how many stories have we read where the characters drove us mad, the setting was inconsequential, and we couldn’t follow half the dialogue, but the plot was what kept us reading? I think every single one of us has read a book like that.

Obviously, you don’t want to write a book like that. However, plot is a great place to start when you’re just delving into this whole writing thing.

The plot of your story is simply this: what happens in the course of your book that delivers your characters to their intended ends and goals. Your plot is the main vessel that will tell your story and will best show the story you want to tell of your characters and themes.

Plot can be broken up into different stages, which you probably learned about in an English class several years ago. In their simplest form, these stages are:

  1. Exposition – where you introduce your setting, characters, and other details
  2. Rising Action – this develops the problem or conflict your story must solve, through events and actions of your characters
  3. Climax – this is the turning point of the story
  4. Falling Action – This is a series of events leading to the resolution of the story
  5. Resolution – the wrapping up of the story

These, of course, can be expanded on and we will later in this post. But first, let’s cover two important points on plot.

The Difference Between Plot-Driven and Character-Driven Stories

Put simply: a plot driven story involves characters motivated and manipulated by the events around them, such as war, an epic love story, or a quest to find something. A character driven story is events motivated by the growth of the main character and how those events change and influence him/her.

Both create amazing stories, both fall into a variety of genres, and both can be used poorly. Your story can make use of one or the other, or both. Your one story could be entirely the story of a series of events, the story of one character’s growth, or a mix of the two.

This post is focusing on plot driven stories, but don’t worry, we’ll talking all about characters and character driven plots next week!

Can You Have Several Plots in One Story?

Absolutely! Generally there is one plot that forms the main story arc, but there could be several sub-plots, character driven plots, and a variety of background plots to add to the depth of the story you’re telling. Every plot is made of the same elements, no matter how larlongge and complicated or short and simple.

Let’s get back to those elements of plot.

Those five stages are just the beginning of how plot breaks down in your story. Each one develops into several stages of your story and your characters.

Exposition

This is where you establish your characters and the main goals of your story. You start your story by introducing your characters, giving them a few scenes in their natural environment. A great way to do this well is to consider the end of your story. Where do you want your characters to be? What have they learned? Who have they become? Start your story with the opposite traits.

For example, say you have a character that you want to be warm and open to others by the end of the story. At the start of your story, show them as cold and closed off to others. It’s important to remember one of the important rules of writing: show, don’t tell.

You also want to set up a bit of the setting here. Write your character in their natural environment,

During the beginning of your story, you’ll also introduce the main conflict of the story. This is what sends your character on their journey, and what motivates them to change, go on a quest, or create a goal.

Rising Action

This is where your characters get pulled into their quest or goal even more. These can be more motivating events, relationship building between the characters, learning new skills, traveling to new places, etc. You’ll also start to introduce a wider variety of characters, some good, some bad, and some that may be hard to tell.

Your characters will also encounter conflict here. Something will push back on their goal, or challenge their quest. This will make them pause, reconsider, and perhaps alter their course. They will have to choose whether or not to continue on their course, which leads to…

Climax

This is where your character begin to change, or their goal becomes clearer, or a solution seems possible. This is the pivot point of the story. The eureka moment. Your character might feel on top of the world, or fully understand the gravity of their situation. This is where they know they can change, their circumstances can change, or they make a pivotal choice. This climax will motivate every single word in the rest of your story.

Falling Action

This is where things begin to take shape. Your character is able to plan how to achieve their goal. They might understand how to finish their quest, how to win the war, how to get the girl. They might also encounter defeat here, where it seems all hope is lost, but…but. Here is also where your character will strive above and get ever closer to their end goal.

The climax will influence how your character reacts to actions, other characters, and situations in this stage. Their change, they’re a-ha moment will be the string holding the rest of the events of the story together, and the falling action stage will need to prove the characters resolve to his/her goal or journey.

Resolution

This is where all the ends get tied up. Puzzled get explained. The good guys are proven good, the bad guys are proven bad. This is the character arriving at that end goal you thought of as you wrote the exposition. This is your character arriving at the opposite of where they started. They win the war, they get the girl, they finish their quest.

This can be happy or sad, and sometimes you may choose not to tie up all the ends. That is totally ok. Just be prepared for very impassioned readers!

Plots can be simple or complicated, and as you grow as a writer, you’ll find ways to mold and tweak the standard plot outline to work with your stories. This is a lot of fun, and will change as you grow as a writer.

Happy plotting!



Alexis Truitt

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