Plot is a critical story element of fiction, but you already know that of course. Read this article, if you want to take a step back and learn more about all the elements of fiction.
Let’s define what is the Plot of a story exactly? The definition of plot is a literary term used to describe a sequence of interconnected events that make up a story. The events can be broken up into different types of plot elements and the organization of those plot elements makes up the plot structure.
As an author all the elements of fiction are important, but most writers will agree, having a strong Plot is right up there with Character in terms of priority for most novels.
Our goal with this guide is to provide you with the ultimate guide to understanding Plot, as well as its elements and structure.
Keep reading if you want to answer any remaining questions you have around fully understanding the plot of a story.
Intro: Why is Plot Important to Your Story
As we defined earlier in this article, the plot is a series of interconnected events that make up a story. So let’s look at why that’s so important in a novel. The plot gives a story forward momentum as it is the driving force behind the events. The Why if you will.
If you look at any story the events included in that story should be central to moving it forward. As a reader and writer, we unconsciously expect that the events of the story included in whatever book we are currently on are included because they are fundamental to driving the story forward.
While we don’t actively think about it when reading a book, through the suspension of our disbelief which is needed to get fully engrossed in a story, we subconsciously accept the world as true, meaning our minds unconsciously accept that other events are happening in that world that we aren’t privy to.
The job of a writer is to include events that are essential to the story being told. The plot of your story is the specific events you have decided to include in your story because they are essential to the characters and driving them towards their ultimate goal.
So while the plot is events that occur in a story, it is important to emphasize that these events need to be interconnected and with that, they need to have causality to each other. They are working together to help explain not just What happens in a story but Why it happens.
Without a plot, you will be left with a series of unrelated happenings that meander without meaning or direction. The plot is essential in capturing the reader and making them feel vested in what happens next.
Defining Plot Elements
What is the definition of Plot Elements? Plot elements are defined as the individual components or elements of a plot that make up a story.
Think of these plot elements as each having a distinct function in the overall construction of the plot. This will help you better understand and remember the individual plot elements as we identify them in the next section.
What are the 6 Elements of Plot in Literature?
Now that you know the definition of plot elements and understand that they each provide a specific function in the overall construction of the plot as a whole. Let’s take the time to identify, define, and explain the use of each of these 6 key plot elements.
Plot Element # 1: Exposition
The first plot element we will define is exposition. So what is the definition of exposition in literature? Exposition is a literary term that refers to the element of the plot that works to introduce the theme, setting, characters, and circumstances at the story’s onset.
When you are thinking of writing exposition in your story, think of it as introducing the reader to the story world and its characters as they are in their current state. This goes beyond just backstory; it helps to build the foundation for the ensuing story.
By building the scene for the reader it helps to give them context for the rest of the story. It helps root them in the world, which will give ensuing events more meaning and makes them more realistic.
Plot Element #2: Conflict
The second plot element we will discuss is Conflict. What is the definition of Conflict in a story? Conflict is the stories problem and drives it from beginning to end.
The conflict is essential to any plot as it is what propels the story forward, without it the story would be boring and have no real reason for occurring or being told.
Conflict can take 6 different forms in your story. Here are the 6 different types of conflict you can incorporate into your novel’s plot.
- Person Vs Person: Character conflicts that take place between people
- Person Vs Self: Character conflicts that happen as an internal struggle
- Person Vs Nature: Person verse natural disaster or the living environment as a whole
- Person Vs Society: Person versus a social injustice or persecution
- Person Vs Supernatural: Person versus a supernatural being or force
- Person Vs Technology: Character versus science or technological advancements that are out of their control.
Conflict can either be internal or external. Your characters can face a combination of conflict in your story. Remember to think about your stories conflict when outlining your plot, this is essential to creating a story that moves forward with a purpose.
Plot Element #3: Rising Action
The 3rd element of Plot that we will define and discuss is Rising Action. What is the definition of Rising Action in Plot? Rising Action is the series of events or elements in a plot that works to create suspense, tension, and enhance readers interest in the story.
The rising action of a plot is very important as it helps build towards the payoff or Climax in a story. Rising action helps to raise the stakes in the story. The majority of events in a fiction plot take place in during the Rising Element and should work to set up and heighten the potential payoff during the climax.
Plot Element #4: Climax
The 4th element of a plot is Climax. What is the definition of Climax? The climax is the point of a plot in which the conflict or crises reaches its peak. It is the point in the story where tension is at its highest point. It is also known as the turning point as it is the point in the story where the Rising Action turns into Falling Action.
When you are writing your climax realize that it is a very important element of the plot as it helps frame the importance of the previous rising action while preparing the reader for the resolution of the conflict. A strong climax should be the highest point of action or emotional tension in the story as you would expect in any grande finale.
Plot Element #5: Falling Action
The 5th element of a plot is the Falling Action. What is the definition of Falling Action? The Falling Action occurs immediately after the Climax and serves to lower the tension, close up loose ends, and build towards the closure of the story.
The falling action can be very brief, but you should think of it as a way to give the reader a chance to exhale and enjoy the payoff that occurred during the Climax.
Plot Element #6: Resolution
The 6th element of a plot is the Resolution. What is the definition of resolution in literature? Resolution is a literary plot device that mostly follows the climax. It is also known as the denouement in French. It refers to the unfolding or solution to a complicated problem in the story.
If some stories the resolution can occur almost simultaneously to the climax, but in other stories, it happens towards the end of the book. Either way, the resolution is an integral part of the conflict as it helps to resolve it. The resolution not only helps resolve the major problem of the story, but it also allows the stories theme to resonate with the readers.
Watch this short video below to get a 2-minute recap on the 6 elements of Plot.
What is the Definition of Plot Structure?
Now that we have defined plot and elements of a plot, let’s define plot structure. What is the definition of plot structure? The definition of plot structure refers to the organization of events or plot elements that make of the story.
As an author, it is up to you to organize the events of your plot so they tell the most entertaining and impactful story possible.
There are many different story structures you can use when it comes to writing your story. When you are outlining your story, consider the story you are trying to tell. When you have a good handle on the theme of your story and what you are really trying to say with it, pick a plot structure that allows you to organize the individualized elements in the most impactful way possible.
What is a Plot Structure Diagram?
There is a reason it is said a picture is worth a thousand words. So let’s take a look at a plot structure diagram.
What is a plot structure diagram? A plot structure diagram is an organizational tool which uses a visual representation to represent the key events in a plot.
The plot structure diagram allows readers and writers to visualize the key features of the story. The first basic triangle-based plot diagram was talked about by Aristotle. It represented the three basic parts of a story, the beginning, middle, and end.
Gustav Freytag expanded upon Aristotle’s simple triangle by adding rising action and falling action to the diagram.
How is Plot Different From Theme?
Many people confuse the plot of a story with its theme. While it is true that plot and theme work together to tell a quality story; they are in fact to very different things.
The difference between Plot and Theme is a plot is what happens in a story, whereas, the theme is what your story is about.
How do Plot and Theme Relate?
The theme is what the story is ultimately about, or said another way, it is the message the reader should take away from the story or the commentary the author is trying to make by telling the story.
The plot is the series of events that drive the story from beginning to end. So as an author you want your plot to help bring out and accentuate your theme. The events and decisions your characters make in relation to those events help to you express the theme of the narrative.
You can use the theme as a benchmark for what happens in your plot. Every event should work to move your story forward and in conjunction with the theme of your story.
What are Common Mistakes when Constructing a Plot?
One of the most common mistakes authors make when writing a novel is called a plot hole.
What is a plot hole? In a work of fiction, plot holes or plotholes, are errors or gaps in the plot. These errors or gaps are inconsistent with the rest of the plot’s events, making them unrealistic and unbelievable to the story or its characters.
Examples of Common Plot Holes or Gaps
Plotholes can take all shapes and sizes. Some plot errors are smaller than others. As an author, you want to try and make sure that you close any open plotholes prior to publishing your book.
Not all plot holes are catastrophic to the success of your book, but even the smallest gap in your plot can annoy readers and leave the story feeling incomplete or unedited.
Now that you know a plot hole is an error or inconsistency in the stories narrative that directly contradicts the logical flow of the story, let’s take a closer look at some of the common types of plot holes.
Plothole Example #1: Illogical Events
This is something that you may have encountered when watching a movie or reading a story that felt like it just didn’t make sense.
This can be something like an all-powerful villain or antagonist that has established itself as close to unbeatable as possible throughout the story is then too easily defeated. You need to make sure your events make sense to the world and story as a whole. No Exceptions!
Plothole Example #2: Contradictions
The second type of plot errors is contradictions. These often have to do with the actions of the characters.
If you have ever read or even worse written a scene in which the character seems to be inexplicably battling bipolar disorder from one scene to another, then you know exactly what this type of plothole looks like.
Plothole Example #3: Unresolved Story Lines
This may not seem like such a big deal, and it is possible to recover assuming the incomplete storyline in minor in nature, but still, as an author, we should be choosing every plot element we introduce into a story meticulously.
So if you are going to introduce a plot element it should serve to move the story forward and thus be tied up by the end of the story.
A famous example of the unresolved storyline plot hole was from the Sopranos. A scene in the snow-covered woods where two Russians are hunting someone in the Pine Barons when he is hit by a shot but the body disappears. That storyline was never finished and caused a lot of complaints from viewers.
Don’t believe me, watch the video below.
Plothole Example #4: Impossible Events
This plothole has to do with something that just isn’t plausible. So think of a character that travels halfway around the globe in a couple of hours.
Make sure you are sticking to the rules of your world. You need to stick to the constraints of technology and science as you’ve defined them. If you find yourself stretching the boundaries of what’s possible as an author, make sure you aren’t asking for too much of leap of faith from the readers to believe its possible.
Plothole Example #5: Continuity Errors
The plothole that is probably easiest to overlook is simple continuity errors. If your character finds themselves forgetting a piece of information that they knew earlier in the novel, that’s not ok.
Make sure you keep continuity in the flow of information throughout the story. Also, be careful of simple continuity errors like saying someone has green eyes earlier in a novel and then having a love interest melt in a pool of their crystal blue eyes later.
How can an Author Check their Story for Plot Holes?
As an author, the easiest way to ensure you avoid or clean up plot holes in your novel is to enlist the help of content or developmental editors and readers throughout the creation process.
If you have the money to invest, then investing in a developmental editor is well worth it. If you are like most new writers, you may not have the money to invest in professional editors.
So here are few ways to make sure you can still catch plot holes in your book before you publish.
Do a Developmental Outline
Once you are done outlining your novel, have a friend take a look at the outline. Ask them for feedback on the theme and plot itself. Ask them to give you any additional questions they have about the book from what they saw in the outline.
Get a Content Editor
Once you have your first draft finished, enlist someone to perform a content edit. In this edit, they should be looking for inconsistencies in the plot. Open-ended questions that have not been resolved. Questions that still need to be answered and problems with character development.
The earlier you can get this type of feedback the better, as it will cut down on the level of rewriting or plot surgery you need to do after the fact.
Enlist Beta Readers
Beta readers are made up of a small tribe of passionate readers that can help you find errors in your story and plot before you publish.
Give them the book when it is 99% baked. This is a chance for your group of Beta Readers to find last-minute inaccuracies or plotholes. At this point in the process, changes should be minor and not involve major plot surgery.
Not all feedback from your Beta readers needs to be included in your final novel, but you should definitely clean up any plot holes they find unless you are making a creative choice to leave it as is.
9 Tips to Writing A Good Plot
- Stay True to the Characters: The characters are essential to your story. You need to understand them fully, including their motivations and desires. Make sure your characters actions make sense to who they are, and not just to serve the plot. Read our Character Development Guide for More Help with this.
- Character Arc Should Compliment Plot: Make sure you understand their character arc, it should coincide to the events in your plot. The events in your plot should help drive your character arc where it needs to go. What happens to your character and the decisions they make should pay off with the plot.
- Outline Your Plot: Put in the work before you start writing and plan out your plot by outlining it. Many writers want to skip this step. But this is the best way to find plotholes or work around trouble spots in your plot prior to actually writing. Don’t be afraid to outline your plot, embrace it. Read our guide to outlining your novel.
- Genre Awareness: Understand the keys and tropes to your genre. You want to make sure you give your readers the elements they expect from your story’s plot based on the genre you are writing in.
- Set-up and Payoffs: Make sure your rising action helps set-up your payoffs, and then make sure the payoff in your plot actually payoffs. If you want to have an impact with your climax, you need to make sure the set-up builds the tension and the stakes for the readers. Same goes for each series of smaller scenes.
- Be Unpredictable: Just because you are delivering plot tropes that are expected in a given genre, that doesn’t mean your story should be predictable. Make sure you are keeping your readers on their toes. But make sure you aren’t doing this by throwing in haphazard plot errors like illogical or unbelievable plot elements.
- Remember Causality: Everything you include in your novel should be there for a reason. Your plot, character action, and scenes need to contain a thread of cause and effect to them. The more causality you have in your plot the more believable and engaging it will be. You are telling a story of interconnected events that set your characters on a path of events (the plot). Make sure you remember the importance of causality when writing your plot.
- Know your Story Structure: When you start outlining make sure you understand your story structure. Certain structures may be better than others for certain types of stories. So make sure you take that into account as you are outlining your plot. You can and should make tweaks to the story structure but it provides a good base to guide your plot.
- Power of a Twist: If you can build in great plot twist then you will really leave your readers with a memorable experience they are likely to share. The key is that your plot twist needs to be believable and have been set-up throughout the plot without your readers realizing it until the twist happens, then the twist should seem right in place with the novel.
Conclusion: To our Plot Guide
I hope this plot guide has been helpful. We all have great plots in us, what we have to do is take the time to consciously bring them out.
The truth is that everything you read here probably sounded like good common sense once you read it and that’s actually a great thing. Because what that tells me is that you already know how to create a good plot, and you were merely looking for little reminders to keep you on track as you plot and write your next novel.
The best advice I can give you is to take the time to develop your plot thoroughly before you start writing. If you are a Panser then this advice probably sounds horrible. But if you can outline broad strokes of you plot prior to writing, you will be able to write faster while knowing you have already built the bones of a quality plot.
As always, thanks for reading and more importantly Writing!