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Story structure and plot | From Rubbish to Publish


Story: The emotions associated with the action of the plot. The story is complex.

Plot: The series of events (action) that provide conflict within a story, which is sometimes referred to as the “spine” of a story. It is the result of what choices the characters make, the actions they take, and the events that happen because of those choices. Ideally the plot should be able to be described in one or two sentences. The plot should be simple.

Plot-Driven Story: Holds the reader through the excitement of the story’s events, action takes precedence. Plot is advanced by external events and circumstances.

Character-Driven Story: Relies on the characters and their responses to actions and events. The events are triggered by the characters and their reactions to decisions and emotions.

Plot Outline Template

I have developed my own template for plotting the basic story elements using a Word table. The table is divided into twelve sections and is set up for twelve chapters but can be expanded or decreased based upon the needs of a particular story.

Section 1 = Introducing the characters in their ordinary world, establishing at least one goal, introducing external and internal conflicts, and for a romance story hinting at attraction.

Section 2 = Establishing a ticking clock element, adding more on the goals, giving more external and internal conflicts, introducing the first complication, and increasing the attraction/resistance for a romance.

Section 3 = First turning point. Adding a ticking clock problem, creating the first turning point in the story by adding more on the goals and complications toward meeting them, increasing the external and internal conflicts, possible introduction of a subplot, and showing stronger attraction and less resistance for a romance.

Section 4 = Adapting to the first problem, focusing on short range goals, renewing external conflicts, subplot issues developing, showing a cautious acceptance of the romance, and mounting frustrations about goals.

Section 5 = Second turning point. Adding a bigger complication and upheaval, opposing goals resurface, external and internal pressures grow, a possible secret is revealed, tension mounts, and the romance heats.

Section 6 = Adapting to the new complication, goals are becoming complicated, doubts about resolving differences surface, ticking cloud gets louder, a conflict is compromised, a new complication is becoming a problem, and although the romance is heating there are doubts as well.

Section 7 = Third turning point. Adding a major complication and setback, goals are even more complicated, possible danger is introduced, external and internal pressures intensify, frustrations mount, more of a secret is revealed, renewed determination to overcome obstacles, and for a romance the romance sizzles.

Section 8 = Adapting to the setback, characters re-evaluate what has happened, re-evaluation of motives and goals, hints of danger, external and internal pressures continue to intensify, ticking clock pressure, the subplot continues, and problems surface for the romance.

Section 9 = Problems are becoming overwhelming, danger growing or becomes real, fears develop, frustrations grow, goals are forced to change, external demands, internal doubts, subplot is nearing conclusion, and there is frustration in the romance.

Section 10 = Black Moment. Hidden backstory is revealed and causes damage, external demands intensify, internal doubts intensify, all appears doomed, one character possibly leaves, and conflicts drive the romance apart.

Section 11 = Climax. Characters re-evaluate goals and consider compromises, external conflicts are resolved, internal conflicts change, characters are forced to change, subplot is finished, pursuit of character who may of left, and the romance buds again.

Section 12 = Resolution. Goals are faced and compromises made, internal conflicts faced, acceptance of what is important, life changes made, and the romance is secured.

Other Basic Story Structure Methods


  • Another Story Map: Using a template with four main sections and sub-sections, describe the story parts. Main sections go out from the center with the story title, the sections including first character and second character, themes, setting, and conflict. See this map at http://www.vickiblackwell.com/storytitle.jpg
  • Basic Plot Structure Chart: Using a chart that follows the basic plot flow of plays with three main divisions, describe the elements that happen in each section. Section 1 = Beginning with background, setting, routines, and exposition that leads to the rising action of the next plot elements. Section 2 = Middle with overcoming obstacles, trying to get something, solving a problem, and two steps of rising action that lead to the climax. Section 3 = End with new ways, new routines, resolution, and the denouement where everything is settled. See this chart at http://ocw.usu.edu/Theatre_Arts/Understanding_Theatre/plot.gif/image_preview
  • Diagram Template: Using a chart diagram that follows the rising movement of the storyline to the peak and falling movement to the end, describe the six basic parts of the story. Start at the low point of the diagram with Exposition that gives the reader basic information to begin the story. Move upward to Rising Action and what draws the reader into the story. Move upward again to Conflict and listing the types of conflict in the story. Reach the high point of the diagram at Climax and list the most exciting or most suspenseful part of the story. Begin going downward to Falling Action and list the action that calms the story down. The final point of the diagram is Resolution where the story ends and should make the reader feel satisfied. See this diagram at http://www.cast.org/teachingeverystudent/toolkits/images/TMP_plotdiagram_large.jpg
  • Plot Chart: Using a boxed chart diagram similar to the Diagram Template, describe the various story elements. The chart starts with what happens in the beginning of the story, moves upward to brief details of the setting with time and place, upward to listing the rising action and conflicts, peaking with the climax details, falling downward to list the conflicts resolved during the falling action, and downward to the resolution ending the story. See this chart at http://i.ehow.com/images/a04/6v/a2/chart-plot-novel-1.3-800×800.jpg
  • Three Act Structure Chart: Using a simple chart with three linear sections of acts, describe the basic blocks of the story. Act I = Beginning which introduces the characters, the setting, and the conflict. Act II = Middle which develops the story through a series of obstacles and mini crises, temporary resolutions to each small crisis, leads to the climax. Act III = End which includes the climax, ties up the loose ends of the story, dissipating tension in the denouement and the resolution. See this chart at http://www.musik-therapie.at/PederHill/Structure&Plot.htm

The Smarts

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This website is the work of Starla Criser, an author who has published more than 50 stories, both traditionally and through self-publishing routes.
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