The “What is Plot?” Series: Plot Structure (Part Three)

Photo courtesy of mpclemens.

This week in the “What is Plot?” Series, I’d like to take a look at plot structure. Any ideas regarding the structure of plot can be traced back to something known as Freytag’s Pyramid.

What is Freytag’s Pyramid?

Developed by Gustav Freytag, a Nineteenth Century German novelist, Freytag’s Pyramid is a diagram that analyzes the common patterns that exist in the plots of stories and novels. It looks like this:

As you can see, the pyramid divides stories into seven main sections:

  1. Exposition: Where the scene is set. Characters and setting are introduced and description and background are provided. Here, the characters are in a stable situation.
  2. Inciting Incident: Where something happens to jump-start the action. A single event usually takes place, signaling the beginning of the main conflict (complication). The world the characters are in is upset.
  3. Rising Action: Where the story builds and gets more exciting. The situation involving the characters should get progressively worse as a direct result of their actions. The point here is to create an atmosphere of suspense that will draw readers into the story.
  4. Climax: The moment of greatest tension in the whole story, often the most exciting event that occurs. The rising action builds up to this point, and the falling action follows it. It’s important to note that the climax and the events leading up to it should never summarize the plot or offer clues to the outcome of the story. The climax should never be a complete surprise. reader should be familiar with with what’s been happening to that point, but shouldn’t be able to, forgive the expression, put two and two together.
  5. Falling Action: Where events happen as a result of the climax. We know the story is going to end soon. This is where all of the “loose ends” of the story are tied up and taken care of.
  6. Resolution: Where the main problem/conflict of the story is solved.
  7. Denouement: The end of the story. Any remaining secrets or questions are solved or explained here. Occasionally, the author will leave readers thinking about the theme of the story or the future of characters.

[Do you chart your story progress based on Freytag’s Pyramid? How does it work for you? Share in the comments. I’m curious!]

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