That Freaking Mountain: Plot Structure

In it’s most basic terms plot is what describes the structure of a story. It’s the arrangement of events within a novel.

Why’s plot so important? Well, without it, there’d be no story.

How about plot structure? If the plot isn’t structured correctly, then the story falls flat.

Many people describe plot structure as a mountain. That’s the best way to describe it. If you look at Freytag’s Pyramid, you’ll see his multi-point system. (I bet it’ll look familiar.)

*Gustav Freytag was a German novelist. He saw similarities in successful stories and diagrammed a story’s plot to reflect those similarities.

Here’s his pyramid:

freytag_pyramid

 

Below I’ve expanded on the points included on the pyramid:

  1. Exposition: Setting the scene. This is the start of the story, where the main characters and setting are introduced. Description and background are also provided. The exposition shows how things are before the action begins.
  2. Inciting Incident: Something happens to start the action. The inciting incident occurs between the exposition and the rising action. It’s a single event that starts the ball rolling. Without it, the characters would continue along in the exposition part of the story. Sometimes the inciting incident is called ‘the complication.’
  3. Rising Action: Where the tension increases. This is the series of conflicts leading to the climax, where the story gets more exciting and where the stakes keeping getting raised.
  4. Climax: Moment of greatest tension within the story. The climax is the turning point, the most intense moment of a novel. This is what the rising action was leading to.
  5. Falling Action: Decreasing tension. The falling action includes the events following the climax. Everything that happens in the falling action section is a result of the climax and readers know that the story will soon reach its conclusion.
  6. Resolution: The main problem is solved. The resolution is between the falling action and the denouement.
  7. Denouement: The end. This is the section of a novel where any lingering questions, secrets, etc. are answered. The denouement is often tied up with the resolution, but this concluding section is the final explanation of what happened. It’s the moment where the characters express their emotions about what happened, including events during the resolution, and their reaction(s) to how they’ve changed during the course of the novel.

There’s another version of Freytag’s Pyramid. This one is more commonly used today because it’s more effective. All the parts are still the same, however what’s changed is the length of those parts.

A modified version of Freytag’s Pyramid:

Fig._12

 

In this version of Freytag’s Pyramid, the rising action has increased, while the falling action has decreased. This difference is important because tension keeps readers interested. The more rising action you have, the better. You want the decreasing tension (falling action) to be less than the increasing tension (rising action). Once the climax occurs, nothing else can surpass it.

You can have false climaxes, where the characters are led to believe everything is over and has worked out in some way or another, but you want your true climax to be much closer to the end of the novel than the beginning.

Think of it this way, if you have a 50,000 word book, you want 40-45,000 of those words to come before the climax. Then, the climax itself should last for at least a chapter (depending on how long your chapters are). The remaining word count is left for the falling action, resolution, and denouement.

If this seems like a lot, don’t worry. Manuscripts are never perfect the first time through. Most aren’t ready by the fifth time through either. Get everything written down. Get your story onto paper. Let your madman (inner creative child) go wild. The judge (your inner critic) can come out later.

How much do you take plot structure into account when you write?

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