The science of storytelling is brimming with various different terms that carry a lot of nuance, and “plot” is one such example.
“Hold on,” you might say. “I know what a plot is. It’s the story, right? It’s what happens in the book. Easy.”
While that’s a good start, it’s really not as easy as all that. In fact, a plot actually does differ from a story.
We’ll explore that – and more – today.
What is a plot?
Alright, so you weren’t entirely wrong – a plot is, in fact, what happens in the book. However, it has two very distinguishing markers: causation and consequence.
In other words, all events in a plot are connected through a cause-and-effect link.
While a story could be random – for instance, a child could make up a story about a girl sitting on a bench and looking at the clouds, or an artist could write something absurd to describe the randomness of the universe – a plot is highly structured and organized.
It rains and the power is out, therefore, the two acquaintances are forced to stay inside and form a romantic connection.
A man forgets to buy nappies again, and it’s the final thing that sends his wife over the edge and makes her file for divorce.
In a plot, every event is connected to another event and pushes the story forward. This is also why each chapter should usually contain something meaningful that brings value to the overall story.
RELATED READ: The Goal Related to Plot of Fiction Writing
What is a plot structure?
Now that you know what a plot is, the next step is to figure out how you can make it work for your story.
Enter… a plot structure!
While there are multiple different narrative structures you can follow, such as the 3-Act Structure and the 8-Sequence Structure, the most common way to cut up your plot is to follow Freytag’s 5-stage structure:
- Exposition (this is where you introduce the existing world and characters to the reader)
- Rising action (an inciting incident sets the story in motion and changes the protagonist’s world; the protagonist reacts and experiences a sequence of events that lead to the climax)
- Climax (the peak of the story, such as the final battle or the biggest challenge)
- Falling action (the aftermath of the big event; the story is cooling down and falling into place)
- Resolution (the ending of the story where everything is nicely wrapped up and any loose ends are tied)
As you’re breaking your plot down into chapters and scenes, keep in mind that your protagonist’s goals should be directly related to the plot and that there ought to be a bigger “why” behind everything.
This “why” is sometimes referred to as Story B – it’s the ultimate message that you’re trying to get across, such as the value of friendship and love in the Harry Potter series or the importance of childlike wonder in The Little Prince.
What’s more, your characters should progress and change throughout the story, and this development should be tied to your plot.
For example, Harry learns how valuable friendship is when Ron and Hermione help him reach the Philosopher’s Stone, and the Little Prince learns to look beyond the surface thanks to his encounter with the fox.
Of course, let’s not forget how vital plot twists are – an unexpected change that shocks the reader adds excitement and pushes the story in new directions.
7 Basic Plot Types
Looking for some inspiration?
There are numerous plot types out there that you can use as the basis for your own unique ideas, such as:
- Tragedy (the protagonist experiences a change for the worse and goes through some type of personal transformation as a result; tragedies tend to end on a sad note)
- Comedy (the main purpose is to make the audience laugh and feel lighter, so while protagonists do have to deal with challenges, these aren’t too heavy in nature, and the story has a happy ending)
- Overcoming the Monster (the plot centers around the idea of good versus evil – the protagonist needs to fight and defeat the antagonist)
- Rags to Riches (the protagonist is struggling in life, but then they achieve success thanks to a change in circumstances or through their own hard work)
- Rebirth (the protagonist’s past experiences led them to have a negative outlook on life or live quite tragically until an inciting incident sets things in motion, and they ultimately change for the better)
- Voyage and Return (a plot type where the main character travels between point A and point B, only to return to point A with newly gained wisdom and experiences)
- Hero’s Journey (some external influence forces the hero to go on a quest to change the situation and transform themselves in the process)
Whichever plot type you choose – be it one of these seven examples or a different plot altogether – always remember that each chapter should propel the story forward and each event should be connected to another one.
RELATED READ: The POV Goal Internal of Fiction Writing
Plotting is an extremely important part of the writing process because it allows you to create complex and nuanced stories that involve amazing plot twists and grab the reader’s attention from the get-go.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t write until you’ve plotted every single chapter – sometimes, writing is precisely how you discover more of the story and get to know your characters better.
However, do try to establish your basic premise, your main message, and your characters’ wants and needs before you fully dive into your first draft.
Without a properly thought-out plot, your book will be but a series of random events. Once a good plot is added into the equation, though…that’s when an amazing story begins to take root.