Posted in basics of plot, building plot, how to write, learning to write, plot, plotting, plotting a novel, strong plot, The Writer's Toolbox

Understanding the Foundation of Plot

Most writers understand the basic equation that plot equals a story.

Plot = Story

But what is plot exactly and how can you break it down to the point where you can understand each moving part, so that the whole will come together in a moving body of perfection? There are actually three very basic things to know about plot and how it is conceptualized. This is done through 3 elements called idea, concept, and premise. These three things are distinctly different from one another, but build upon one another to make the full idea of plot a thing of reality. If we know each of these steps of plot then we can better understand how it is created.

 What is the idea of a story? An idea is simple. It is one thought that can sum up the whole of a story in the most basic terms. To help show examples of a story idea I have chosen three well known literary stories Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, and Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Vern to draw upon.

Examples of a story IDEA…

Treasure Island= finding treasure

Adventures of Tom Sawyer (this book has multiple story arcs but this is the main idea that the rest of the book is centered around)= murder of a man

Journey to the Center of the Earth= search for an ancient passage to the center of the earth

What is the concept of a story? A concept gives a bigger picture of the story. It is where the conflict can be found and asks the main question of the story. It is a snapshot of the story or a window into the plot itself, but is not the whole of the plot.

Examples of story CONCEPT…

Treasure Island= finding treasure sought by every pirate and cut throat in the known world

Question of the story: Who will get to the treasure first?

Conflict: Many unsavory and ruthless individuals looking for the same treasure, who are willing to do whatever it takes to get there first.

Adventures of Tom Sawyer= murder of a man leads to another man being wrongfully accused of the murder

Question of the story: Will the wrongfully accused man be found innocent?

Conflict: The truth of a murder is covered up by subterfuge, false assumptions, and innocent lies.

Journey to the Center of the Earth= search for an ancient passage to the center of the earth that leads to an epic journey of fantastic discovery

Question of the story: What will be discovered in the journey to the center of the earth?

Conflict: A journey that halted and stalled by events that can be controlled and some that cannot.

What is the premise of a story? A premise is a concept that is expanded to include a character(s) that is brought into the mix of things. This is when plot becomes flesh and blood. If you have a premise, then you have a fully developed plot.

Examples of story PREMISE=

Treasure Island= finding treasure sought by every pirate and cut throat in the known world, but a youth unwittingly becomes drawn into the fierce competition when he accidentally stumbles across Captain Flint’s treasure map.

Adventures of Tom Sawyer= murder of a man leads to another man being wrongfully accused of the murder, the only witnesses to the truth are two boys Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn who happen to have a knack for finding trouble

Journey to the Center of the Earth= search for an ancient passage to the center of the earth that leads to an epic journey of fantastic discovery lead by an eccentric professor of science whose impatience is rivaled only by his obstinate nature

As you can see the idea, concept, and premise build upon one another to help build the story to a completed plot. Once this completed plot is discovered the story can then unfold. Sometimes the seed of a story can sprout without first knowing the idea behind the story. The seed can come in the form of a concept, character, or theme (theme is the essence of the story such as Treasure Island’s theme is about truthfulness and loyalty. Can you figure out the themes for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Journey to the Center of the Earth?). This seed can then be watered by inserting in whatever information is missing from the idea, concept and premise. If you have a missing link in any of these three basic elements then there will be a hole in your story, which will cause your plant to wither and die.

What can all of this information do you for you? It can help you have a better understanding of your story and how a story is born. Remember that your concept must ask a question and be the catalyst for major conflict in your story. Also keep in mind that a story cannot stand by itself without a character to propel it forward. These things once known become the life blood of your story and act as a skeleton for the rest of your story as it blossoms into a beautiful flower or tree. So what are the idea, concept, and premise of your creation?

Want to read more on plot check out my other blogs on A Breakdown of Plot Diagrams and Does Nonfiction have Plot.

Posted in basics of plot, building plot, Gustav's Freytag Pyramid, how to write, learning to write, plot, plot diagram, plot template, plotting, strong plot, The Writer's Toolbox, writing, writing advice, writing better

A Breakdown of Plot Diagrams

Download PDF file here.

Plot diagram is also called the structure of the story. It is the main outline of what is going on and everything else exists solely to support that structure. There are a couple of different types of plot structure that can be found but the basic one consists of Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.

Exposition sets up the story and lets the stakes become known.

Rising Action is the problem and/or conflict the character attempts to resolve.

Climax is where the story is at its worst.

Falling Action is where the character begins to solve the problem.

Resolution brings the story to a close in some manner.

Download PDF file here. 

Exposition, Rising Action, and Climax (or beginning, middle and end) is what is called the 3 acts of a story, each plays an important part to the story.

I took the Cinderella story and broke it down into the five stages to make it even more understandable.

There is also another plot diagram that some use called Gustav Freytag’s Pyramid. This has the same 5 elements as above but adds two more for a more complete understanding of plot (this is mostly done in literature). It adds Inciting Incident and Denouement. Your 5 acts would be Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action and Denouement.

What is Denouement?

A denouement (pronounced day-noo-maun) is the part of the story just before the conclusion and after the climax. It is the winding down of a story. Where in the book the “Hobbit” Bilbo would be on his way home. The denouement is the resolution or outcome of a story. The winding down of a story is referred to as the falling action, which comes immediately after the climax. –Wiki.Answers.com

What is the difference between Denouement and Resolution? The Resolution happens when the character solves the main problem/conflict or someone solves it for him or her. The Denouement is the very ending. At this point, any remaining secrets, questions or mysteries which remain after the resolution are solved by the characters or explained by the author. Sometimes the author leaves us to think about the THEME or future possibilities for the characters.

Gustav Freytag’s Pyramid

Want to know more about plot and how to build it in your story?  Checkout my blog post to find more out about my free ebook on The Building Blocks of Plot.

What about plot for nonfiction? Does nonfiction even have plot? Check out my blog post Does Nonfiction Have Plot to find out!