Thickening A Story’s Plot

The foundation for a story is always its plot. The plot is what drives a story forward, so if there is no plot in your story, there really is no advancement, no action, and no story taking place.

A basic plot consists for any given dramatic structure are generally broken down as the following:

1. Exposition

This is the part of the story that introduces the characters, setting, etc. and gives any relevant background information to the upcoming story.

2. Rising Action

Everything building up to the climax of the story is considered the rising action. This is where the character grows, learns, and experiences much of the story. This is often considered one of the most important plot points for a writer to develop to make their story interesting.

3. Climax or Crisis

This is the turning point of the story. This is the absolute max of the action taking place within the tale. Note, stories can have multiple climaxes, or little false climaxes leading up to the bigger, ultimate, climax.

4. Falling Action

With the climax over, all the conflict between the protagonist and antagonist begin to resolve. Sometimes there’s a final moment of suspense within the falling action, but in general, the action is coming to an end.

5. Denouement, Resolution, Revelation, or Catastrophe

The Denouement, old French for “to unite the knot,” is the end. This is where characters can live happily ever after or, perhaps, live to face another day, or not.

Some of you may remember this chart from grade or middle school.

A writer should carefully craft his or her plot points to ensure a strong, engaging story for his or her reader. A weak plot can make a story unappealing for a reader, or even make the reader confused about the action with the story. There are a few tricks for writers to make sure their plot is strong, substantial, and fulfilling for their readers.

First and foremost, actually write out and map your plot, like in the chart above. A lot of writers just focus on the story and kind of forget that the plot is actually what drives the story forward. If you don’t highlight and specifically map out your plot, you can find that there are weak points in it that make your story feel stale, flat, or stuck.

Also, who has just ONE plot within a story anymore? Map out multiple plots of all the main characters. Shakespeare’s plays generally have three plots—the main plot, the side plot, and an overarching plot linking the two plots together. South Park similarly structures its shows. Three plots that are connected in theme and well balanced might be tough at first, but it is definitely a goal worth working towards.

Starting off with two main plots is a good way to start, or three if you have three main characters going on. Writers like George R.R. Martin have an insane amount of plots for varying characters going on in his stories (so many that I’m not even going to attempt to count how many plots are in a single Song of Fire and Ice series). So you have a few options when it comes to mapping out multiple plots—you can have a main and a side, and attempt an overarching, or you can have a few main plots that intersect throughout different parts of the story.

Whatever plot you design should be one thing at all times: apparent to the reader. You don’t want a reader not to get the plot, because then they’re going to miss important details of the story and be confused about the rest of the plot taking place. For my Early American Literature course, we read a book called The Coquette. Our teacher claimed the denouement of the story was when the main female character remained silent in a garden while her betrothed left her. Not one person in the class associated that point of the story with being the peak of action within the novel. Others pointed to her going back to the rake (rake is like a playboy jerk) she was dating or decided to have sex before marriage (which wasn’t good back in early American literature), but not one of us realized the point of silence in the story was such a big deal.

So whatever you choose as the high point of your story, be sure to highlight it to your reader, so they aren’t trying to pick up on consequences of the denouement as the denouement itself. Remember, all of your plot points should be memorable because they are what the reader is going to take with them from the story. The plot should support the main message and work with your characters and story to drive the whole thing forward.

One last thing to think about, if you want to make your plot interesting, on top of having multiple, strong, clear, plot points, tell them out of order. You can imitate mystery novels and start with the denouement and work your way backwards to the starting action, only to finish with the resolution again. Or, you could have one plot moving forward while another plot moves out of order besides it. Have fun with your writing and see what works for your story. This is your story and your plot, after all.

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