Story Plots – Why They’re Essential by A.E. Wilcox



There are essentially three kinds of writers – planners, pantsers (no planning – making it up as you go along) and ‘tweeners (those who are somewhere between the two). But there is something all story writers should have on completion of their novel or short story – a plot.

So what exactly is a story plot? It is a literary term used to describe the events that make up a story or the main part of a story. These events relate to each other in a pattern or a sequence. The structure of a short story or novel depends on the organization of events in the plot of the story.

A plot is the foundation of a novel or short story which the characters and settings are built around. It is meant to organize information and events in a logical manner. It is the mechanism which should make the story work, or connect with readers. The experience of reading a story should transport and move the reader.’

Readers, when they start a story, whether consciously or not, ask questions such as, “What is this story about?” “Is anything happening?” “Why should I keep reading?” And “Why should I care?”

There are five main elements in a plot:

The first is the exposition or the introduction. This is the beginning of the story where characters and setting are established. The conflict or main problem is introduced as well.’

The second element of a plot is known as the rising action which occurs when a series of events build up to the conflict. The main characters are established by the time the rising action of a plot occurs and at the same time, events begin to get complicated. It is during this part of a story that excitement, tension or crisis is encountered.

The third element of a plot is known as the climax or the main point of the plot. This is the turning point of the story and is meant to be the moment of highest interest and emotion. The reader wonders what is going to happen next.’

The fourth element of a plot is known as falling action or the winding up of the story. Events and complications begin to resolve and the result of actions of the main characters are put forward.

The last element of a plot is the resolution or the conclusion. It is the end of a story and ends with either a happy ending, a tragic ending or perhaps, an ambiguous ending where something is both won and lost.

Some people maintain there are really only seven basic plot types. However, there is an author, Georges Polti, who wrote a book called The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations which suggest there can be as many as thirty-six different types of plot. (After the hyphen in each case suggested main character types are listed for each plot model)

  • Supplication’- Persecutor, Suppliant, a Power in Authority
  • Deliverance’- Unfortunates, Threatener, Rescuer
  • Revenge’- Avenger, Criminal
  • Vengeance by Family upon Family’- Avenging Kinsman, Guilty Kinsman, Relative
  • Pursuit’- Fugitive from Punishment, Pursuer
  • Victim of Cruelty or Misfortune’- Unfortunates, Master or Unlucky Person
  • Disaster’- Vanquished Power, Victorious Power or Messenger
  • Revolt’- Tyrant, Conspirator(s)
  • Daring Enterprise’- Bold Leader, Goal, Adversary
  • Abduction – Abductor, Abducted, Guardian
  • Enigma’- Interrogator, Seeker, Problem
  • Obtaining’- Two or more Opposing Parties, Object, maybe an Arbitrator
  • Familial Hatred’- Two Family Members who hate each other
  • Familial Rivalry’- Preferred Kinsman, Rejected Kinsman, Object
  • Murderous Adultery’- Two Adulterers, the Betrayed
  • Madness’- Madman, Victim
  • Fatal Imprudence’- Imprudent person, Victim or lost object
  • Involuntary Crimes of Love’- Lover, Beloved, Revealer
  • Kinsman Kills Unrecognised Kinsman’- Killer, Unrecognised Victim, Revealer
  • Self Sacrifice for an Ideal’- Hero, Ideal, Person or Thing Sacrificed
  • Self Sacrifice for Kindred’- Hero, Kinsman, Person or Thing Sacrificed
  • All Sacrificed for Passion’- Lover, Object of Passion, Person or Thing Sacrificed
  • Sacrifice of Loved Ones’- Hero, Beloved Victim, Need for Sacrifice
  • Rivalry Between Superior and Inferior’- Superior, Inferior, Object
  • Adultery’- Deceived Spouse, Two Adulterers
  • Crimes of Love’- Lover, Beloved, theme of Dissolution
  • Discovery of Dishonour of a Loved One – Discoverer, Guilty One
  • Obstacles to Love’- Two Lovers, Obstacle
  • An Enemy Loved’- Beloved Enemy, Lover, Hater
  • Ambition’- An Ambitious Person, Coveted Thing, Adversary
  • Conflict with a God’- Mortal, Immortal
  • Mistaken Jealousy’- Jealous One, Object of Jealousy, Supposed Accomplice, Author of
  • Mistake
  • Faulty Judgment’- Mistaken One, Victim of Mistake, Author of Mistake, Guilty
  • Person
  • Remorse’- Culprit, Victim, Interrogator
  • Recovery of a Lost One’- Seeker, One Found
  • Loss of Loved Ones’- Kinsman Slain, Kinsman Witness, Executioner

If you have written a story and then you find you can’t summarize it in one, or perhaps two sentences, then you can be absolutely sure your story is missing a plot.

A one-sentence plot is also called a line plot, and you can’t write one without including a major conflict. That conflict is the heart of the plot. Here are a couple of examples –

Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone’by J.K. Rowling
A boy wizard begins training and must battle for his life with the Dark Lord who murdered his parents.

Lord of The Rings by J R R Tolkien
A hobbit must take an evil magic ring of power to the land of the dark lord in order to destroy it, while his friends create a diversion.’

The plot is what forms a memory in the readers’ mind, allowing them to think about the book and even making them want to read it again. By identifying and understanding the plot, the reader is able to understand the message being conveyed by the author and the explicit or implicit moral of the story.

So a plot is the telling of a story, not the source of it. Once you have sympathetic characters with human needs facing a compelling conflict, then you have a story. The plot comes out when you tell that story. Plot is a storytelling tool, not an end in itself.
Useful links:

Short story plotting
Novel plotting

amandabwEnglish born and bred, as well as having learned the usual stuff at school, A.E. Wilcox has also been taught ballet, music, art and design. Now, she is an aspiring writer.

Apart from writing, she loves the sea and history. She likes drawing and doing artwork. She bakes, designs and decorates celebration cakes. She is handy with a sewing machine. Wilcox enjoys traveling abroad as often as she can.

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