A Writer’s Cheatsheet to Plot and Structure

By Matt Herron

Source: The Write Practice

Plot and structure are like gravity. You can work with them or you can fight against them, but either way they’re as real as a the keyboard at your fingertips.

Getting a solid grasp on the foundations of plot and structure, and learning to work in harmony with these principles will take your stories to the next level.

What is plot? What is structure?

Plot is the series of events that make up your story, including the order in which they occur and how they relate to each other.

Structure (also known as narrative structure), is the overall design or layout of your story.

While plot is specific to your story and the particular events that make up that story, structure is more abstract, and deals with the mechanics of the story—how the chapters/scenes are broken up, what is the conflict, what is the climax, what is the resolution, etc.

You can think of plot and structure like the DNA of your story. Every story takes on a plot, and every piece of writing has a structure. Where plot is (perhaps) unique to your story, you can use an understanding of common structures and devices to develop better stories and hone your craft.

Essential Devices for Plot and Structure

Here are three common devices essential to fiction—but especially important in writing novels—that will help frame any current story you’re working on, and give you a jumping off point to learn more about plot and structure.

Three Act Structure

This idea goes back to ancient Greek dramatic theory, so you know it’s been time-tested. Aristotle said that every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end (in ancient Greek, the protasis, epitasis, and catastrophe), and ancient Greek plays often follow this formula strictly by having three acts.

Still commonly used in screenwriting and novels today, the three act structure is as basic as you can get: every story ever written has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Narrative Arc

Freytag's Pyramid
Also called Freytag’s pyramid, the narrative arc is made up of the following pieces:

  1. Exposition — The opening of the story, including a reader’s introduction to characters and settings.
  2. Rising Action — A series of events that complicates matters for your characters, and results in increased drama or suspense.
  3. Climax — The big showdown where your characters encounter their opposition, and either win or lose.
  4. Falling Action — A series of events that unfold after the climax and lead to the end of the story.
  5. Resolution — The end of the story, in which the problems are resolved (or not resolved, depending on the story.) Also called the denouement, catastrophe, or revelation.

Again, this is an abstract device used to describe the narrative arc of all stories, which is why it’s so powerful and commonly used in dramatic structural theory.

Ask yourself how your story fits into this framework. If it doesn’t, what’s missing?

A Disturbance and Two Doorways

I originally found this concept in Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell.

The disturbance is whatever happens early on in your story that upsets the status quo. It can be a strange phone call in the middle of the night, news of the death of a close relative, or anything that is a threat or a challenge to your protagonist’s ordinary way of life.

Read Full Article Here