Choosing a Plot Structure

Here are your choices for a plot structure. Pick one.

Choice #1: Classic Plot

Beginning: initiating incident; problem that has to be solved is introduced
Middle: hero’s attempts to solve the problem
End: natural results of what has happened in the middle; hero succeeds or fails at solving the problem
These three elements must be equal in size. eg. 60 page story: 20 pages for each.

Elements of a Classic Plot

Reversals: protagonist goes from bad situations to good ones or vice-versa
Discoveries: certain revelations about events in the story lead the protagonist to unravel events; in the process s/he discovers her strengths and weaknesses; protagonist moves from ignorance to self-knowledge
Emotions: combined reversals and discoveries produce strong emotions, such as pity, fear, etc.
Complication: suspenseful incidents occur from the beginning to a crucial/turning point followed by a change from apparent success to adversity
Catastrophe: produced by a reversal: the lowest point of action in the story; shows the protagonist in greatest despair
Recognition scene: key scene: protagonist understands the relationship of his/her character flaw to the problem and understand his or her moral responsibility and relationship to the universe
Resolution: extends from the turning point to the end of the story

Choice #2: Dramatic Plot (most common in modern books, movies, TV; also called the “W” diagram)

Elements of a Dramatic Plot:

Intent: the protagonist wants to achieve something
First barrier: something stands in the protagonist’s way
First barrier reversal: the protagonist does something brave, noble, clever, or inventive to overcome the first barrier
High point of action: it looks as if the protagonist is going to achieve his/her intent. Things look good at this point.
Second reversal (also known as rug-pulling): something happens that frustrates the protagonist’s intent
Catastrophe: the protagonist plunges to a low point of action. He/she may be permanently thwarted or even killed at this point in the plot structure.
Resolution: the protagonist may go on and through strength, bravery, intelligence, or cunning achieve his/her intent
Other terms:

Conflict: All protagonists experience problems and conflicts. The way they solve them or fail to solve them offers the reader insight into the protagonist’s character. It can also offer the character self-insight.
Complication: When the protagonist has trouble overcoming the barriers, it is called a complication. This could happen at the first barrier or during the rug-pulling.

Choice #3: Simple Plot (Epiphany Plot)

good for short mood pieces and short stories
not much action happens; action is shown leading to a moment of insight
plot rises to a climax and then drops off
the point is the epiphany
characterization is important in this one

Choice #4: Episodic Plot (Picaresque)

good for beginners; protagonist falls in and out of adventures
each even or episode is equal in intensity
focus is on plot
examples: “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown and “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac

Choice #5: Hourglass Plot

features two people whose lives intersect; equal time spent on both of them
good for love stories
example: The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain, the movie “Freaky Friday”

Choice #6: Circle Plot

the hardest one of all to pull off
an event is the protagonist; the people in the story react to the event
example: “And Then There Were None” by Agatha Christie

Do’s and Don’ts:

Avoid deus ex machina. That’s a contrived ending in which all the protagonist’s problems are solved for him. It’s fake and unrealistic. An example would be the ending of Lord of the Flies, when the navy suddenly appears just as the island is burning to a crisp and Ralph is about to be slaughtered by Jack and his band of hooligans.

Don’t write a plot that is unrealistic, unmotivated, and unbelievable. If your plot centers on coincidences your plot is unrealistic.

Make sure everything you include in the plot has to do with the plot. Don’t spend three pages describing the sunset because you happen to be outside when you’re writing.


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