This shows grade level based on the word's complexity.
This shows grade level based on the word's complexity.
a secret plan or scheme to accomplish some purpose, especially a hostile, unlawful, or evil purpose: a plot to overthrow the government.
Also called storyline.the plan, scheme, or main story of a literary or dramatic work, as a play, novel, or short story.
a small piece or area of ground: a garden plot; burial plot.
a measured piece or parcel of land: a house on a two-acre plot.
a plan, map, diagram, or other graphic representation, as of land, a building, etc.
a list, timetable, or scheme dealing with any of the various arrangements for the production of a play, motion picture, etc.: According to the property plot, there should be a lamp stage left.
a chart showing the course of a craft, as a ship or airplane.
Artillery. a point or points located on a map or chart: target plot.
verb (used with object),plot·ted,plot·ting.
to plan secretly, especially something hostile or evil: to plot mutiny.
to mark on a plan, map, or chart, as the course of a ship or aircraft.
to draw a plan or map of, as a tract of land or a building.
to divide (land) into plots.
to determine and mark (points), as on plotting paper, by means of measurements or coordinates.
to draw (a curve) by means of points so marked.
to represent by means of such a curve.
to devise or construct the plot of (a play, novel, etc.).
to prepare a list, timetable, or scheme of (production arrangements), as for a play or motion picture: The stage manager hadn't plotted the set changes until one day before the dress rehearsal.
to make (a calculation) by graph.
verb (used without object),plot·ted,plot·ting.
to plan or scheme secretly; form a plot; conspire.
to devise or develop a literary or dramatic plot.
to be marked or located by means of measurements or coordinates, as on plotting paper.
ARE YOU A TRUE BLUE CHAMPION OF THESE "BLUE" SYNONYMS?
We could talk until we're blue in the face about this quiz on words for the color "blue," but we think you should take the quiz and find out if you're a whiz at these colorful terms.
Question 1 of 8
Which of the following words describes “sky blue”?
Origin of plot
First recorded before 1100; the noun has multiple origins: in the sense “piece of ground,” Middle English: “small area, patch, stain, piece of ground,” Old English: “piece of ground” (origin obscure); in the senses “ground plan, outline, map, scheme,” variant (since the 16th century) of plat1, itself partly a variant of Middle English, Old English plot; in the sense “secret plan” (from the 16th century), by association with complot; the verb is derivative of the noun
synonym study for plot
1. See conspiracy. 19. Plot,conspire,scheme imply secret, cunning, and often unscrupulous planning to gain one's own ends. To plot is to contrive a secret plan of a selfish and often treasonable kind: to plot against someone's life. To conspire is to unite with others in an illicit or illegal machination: to conspire to seize a government. To scheme is to plan ingeniously, subtly, and often craftily for one's own advantage: to scheme how to gain power.
historical usage of plot
The word plot has no known origin and exists solely in English. The noun dates from the late 10th or early 11th century and originally meant “a small piece of land or area of ground.” Plot in the sense “a small piece of land in a cemetery” was originally an Americanism and dates from the mid-19th century.
In the mid-16th century, plot was used to refer to a map, ground plan, sketch, or written outline. At about the same time, it also came to mean “a secret, usually evil plan”; the verb meaning “to plan secretly, devise” comes from that sense of the noun. Plot in the sense “a storyline or main story of a play or novel” dates from the early 17th century.
OTHER WORDS FROM plot
plotful,adjectiveplotless,adjectiveplot·less·ness,nounoutplot,verb (used with object),out·plot·ted,out·plot·ting.
o·ver·plot,verb,o·ver·plot·ted,o·ver·plot·ting.pre·plot,verb (used with object),pre·plot·ted,pre·plot·ting.re·plot,verb (used with object),re·plot·ted,re·plot·ting.un·plot·ted,adjectiveun·plot·ting,adjectivewell-plotted,adjective
Words nearby plot
plonko, plook, plop, plosion, plosive, plot, Plotinian, Plotinism, Plotinus, plot line, plottage
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021
Words related to plot
trick, design, conspiracy, scam, maneuver, story, scenario, scene, theme, narrative, action, scheme, structure, movement, land, parcel, lot, piece, devise, sketch
How to use plot in a sentence
What followed, prosecutors said, was a criminal plot by his underlings to cyberstalk the couple.
Four ex-eBay employees to admit guilt in cyberstalking plot|Verne Kopytoff|September 23, 2020|Fortune
Counseling, rehab, a lot of medication, trial and error, quitting drinking, and support from family and friends have essentially kept me here and with the plot.
The Accidental Attempted Murder|Eugene Robinson|September 2, 2020|Ozy
Over subsequent days, the hacker met with the employee multiple times to hash out the plot, unaware that the FBI was listening in.
The FBI broke up a Russian hacker plot to extort millions from Tesla|Aaron Pressman|August 28, 2020|Fortune
After rejecting all possible sources of error they could think of, the researchers came up with three explanations that would fit the size and shape of the bump in their data plots.
Dark Matter Experiment Finds Unexplained Signal|Natalie Wolchover|June 17, 2020|Quanta Magazine
And, if you’ve forgotten, here’s the plot summary, as told by Anya Dubner.
Does Hollywood Still Have a Princess Problem? (Ep. 394)|Stephen J. Dubner|October 24, 2019|Freakonomics
When communism was a threat, it was construed as a communist plot.
Anti-Fluoriders Are The OG Anti-Vaxxers|Michael Schulson|July 27, 2016|DAILY BEAST
But his account of a dissident plot involving Gambian expats using U.S. weapons is similar to what Faal told the FBI.
The Shadowy U.S. Veteran Who Tried to Overthrow a Country|Jacob Siegel|January 6, 2015|DAILY BEAST
Another member of the plot took care of the ammo along with black uniforms, night-vision equipment, and body armor.
The Shadowy U.S. Veteran Who Tried to Overthrow a Country|Jacob Siegel|January 6, 2015|DAILY BEAST
They were able to purchase weapons and plot attacks on the island without much interference.
Of Cuban Spies, a Baby, and a Filmmaker: The Strange Tale of the Cuban Five|Nina Strochlic|December 28, 2014|DAILY BEAST
The plot was a string of anecdotes from the senseless shootings of friends that Brinsley knew.
Alleged Cop Killer’s Blood-Soaked Screenplay|M.L. Nestel|December 24, 2014|DAILY BEAST
It was thanks to the discovery of this plot that the Marshal first got information of his enemies' projected advance.
Napoleon's Marshals|R. P. Dunn-Pattison
But Magellan learned of their wicked plot in time to defeat them, and he punished them as they deserved.
Alila, Our Little Philippine Cousin|Mary Hazelton Wade
While he grieved over the loss of our little one, you conceived a vile plot to 'get even,' Oh, you—liar!
The Homesteader|Oscar Micheaux
It was assuming a great deal to tell a woman that he saw through her plot to disenchant him with a rival.
The friends so overacted their part, that Jane immediately saw through the plot.
Madame Roland, Makers of History|John S. C. Abbott
British Dictionary definitions for plot (1 of 2)
a secret plan to achieve some purpose, esp one that is illegal or underhanda plot to overthrow the government
the story or plan of a play, novel, etc
militarya graphic representation of an individual or tactical setting that pinpoints an artillery target
mainlyUSa diagram or plan, esp a surveyor's map
lose the plotinformalto lose one's ability or judgment in a given situation
to plan secretly (something illegal, revolutionary, etc); conspire
(tr)to mark (a course, as of a ship or aircraft) on a map
(tr)to make a plan or map of
- to locate and mark (one or more points) on a graph by means of coordinates
- to draw (a curve) through these points
(tr)to construct the plot of (a literary work)
Word Origin for plot
C16: from plot ², influenced in use by complot
British Dictionary definitions for plot (2 of 2)
a small piece of landa vegetable plot
(tr)to arrange or divide (land) into plots
Word Origin for plot
Old English: piece of land, plan of an area
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
Cultural definitions for plot
The organization of events in a work of fiction.
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
When we talk about stories, we tend to use the word "plot." But what is plot exactly? How does it differ from a story, and what are the primary features that make up a well-written plot? We answer these questions here and show you real plot examples from literature. But first, let’s take a look at the basic plot definition.
What Is Plot? Definition and Overview
What is the plot of a story? The answer is pretty simple, actually.
Plot is the way an author creates and organizes a chain of events in a narrative. In short, plot is the foundation of a story.Some describe it as the "what" of a text (whereas the characters are the "who" and the theme is the "why").
This is the basic plot definition. But what does plot do?
The plot must follow a logical, enticing format that draws the reader in. Plot differs from "story" in that it highlights a specific and purposeful cause-and-effect relationship between a sequence of major events in the narrative.
In Aspects of the Novel, famed British novelist E. M. Forster argues that instead of merely revealing random events that occur within a text (as "story" does), plot emphasizes causality between these events:
"We have defined a story as a narrative of events arranged in their time-sequence. A plot is also a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality. 'The king died and then the queen died,' is a story. 'The king died, and then the queen died of grief' is a plot. The time-sequence is preserved, but the sense of causality overshadows it."
Authors typically develop their plots in ways that are most likely to pique the reader’s interestand keep them invested in the story. This is why many plots follow the same basic structure. So what is this structure exactly?
What Is Plot Structure?
All plots follow a logical organization with a beginning, middle, and end—but there’s a lot more to the basic plot structure than just this. Generally speaking, every plot has these five elements in this order:
- Rising action
- Climax/turning point
- Falling action
The first part of the plot establishes the main characters/protagonists and setting. We get to know who’s who, as well as when and where the story takes place. At this point, the reader is just getting to know the world of the story and what it’s going to be all about.
Here, we’re shown what normal looks like for the characters.
The primary conflict or tension around which the plot revolves is also usually introduced here in order to set up the course of events for the rest of the narrative. This tension could be the first meeting between two main characters (think Pride and Prejudice) or the start of a murder mystery, for example.
#2: Rising Action
In this part of the plot, the primary conflict is introduced (if it hasn’t been already) and is built upon to create tension both within the story and the reader, who should ideally be feeling more and more drawn to the text. The conflict may affect one character or multiple characters.
The author should have clearly communicated to the reader the stakes of this central conflict. In other words, what are the possible consequences? The benefits?
This is the part of the plot that sets the rest of the plot in motion. Excitement grows as tensions get higher and higher, ultimately leading to the climax of the story (see below).
For example, in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the rising action would be when we learn who Voldemort is and lots of bad things start happening, which the characters eventually realize are all connected to Voldemort.
This little guy says his cousin was part of the plot in the Harry Potter books.
#3: Climax/Turning Point
Arguably the most important part of a story, the climax is the biggest plot point, which puts our characters in a situation wherein a choice must be made that will affect the rest of the story.
This is the critical moment that all the rising action has been building up to, and the point at which the overarching conflict is finally addressed. What will the character(s) do, and what will happen as a result? Tensions are highest here, instilling in the reader a sense of excitement, dread, and urgency.
In classic tales of heroes, the climax would be when the hero finally faces the big monster, and the reader is left to wonder who will win and what this outcome could mean for the other characters and the world as a whole within the story.
#4: Falling Action
This is when the tension has been released and the story begins to wind down. We start to see the results of the climax and the main characters’ actions and get a sense of what this means for them and the world they inhabit. How did their choices affect themselves and those around them?
At this point, the author also ties up loose ends in the main plot and any subplots.
In To Kill a Mockingbird, we see the consequences of the trial and Atticus Finch’s involvement in it: Tom goes to jail and is shot and killed, and Scout and Jem are attacked by accuser Bob Ewell who blames their father for making a fool out of him during the trial.
This final plot point is when everything has been wrapped up and the new world—and the new sense of normalcy for the characters—has been established. The conflict from the climax has been resolved, and all loose ends have been neatly tied up (unless the author is purposely setting up the story for a sequel!).
There is a sense of finality and closure here, making the reader feel that there is nothing more they can learn or gain from the narrative.
The resolution can be pretty short—sometimes just a paragraph or so—and might even take the form of an epilogue, which generally takes place a while after the main action and plot of the story.
Be careful not to conflate "resolution" with "happy ending"—resolutions can be tragic and entirely unexpected, too!
In Romeo and Juliet, the resolution is the point at which the family feud between the Capulets and Montagues is at last put to an end following the deaths of the titular lovers.
What Is a Plot Diagram?
Many people use a plot diagram to help them visualize the plot definition and structure. Here’s what a basic plot diagram looks like:
The triangular part of the diagram indicates changing tensions in the plot. The diagram begins with a flat, horizontal line for the exposition, showing a lack of tension as well as what is normal for the characters in the story.
This elevation changes, however, with the rising action, or immediately after the conflict has been introduced. The rising action is an increasing line (indicating the building of tension), all the way up until it reaches the climax—the peak or turning point of the story, and when everything changes.
The falling action is a decreasing line, indicating a decline in tension and the wrapping up of the plot and any subplots. After, the line flatlines once more into a resolution—a new sense of normal for the characters in the story.
You can use the plot diagram as a reference when writing a story and to ensure you have all major plot points.
4 Plot Examples From Literature
While most plots follow the same basic structure, the details of stories can vary quite a bit! Here are four plot examples from literature to give you an idea of how you can use the fundamental plot structure while still making your story entirely your own.
#1: Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Exposition: The ghost of Hamlet’s father—the former king—appears one night instructing his son to avenge his death by killing Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle and the current king.
Rising Action: Hamlet struggles to commit to avenging his father’s death. He pretends to go crazy (and possibly becomes truly mad) to confuse Claudius. Later, he passes up the opportunity to kill his uncle while he prays.
Climax: Hamlet stabs and kills Polonius, believing it to be his uncle. This is an important turning point at which Hamlet has committed himself to both violence and revenge. (Another climax can be said to be when Hamlet duels Laertes.)
Falling Action: Hamlet is sent to England but manages to avoid execution and instead returns to Denmark. Ophelia goes mad and dies. Hamlet duels Laertes, ultimately resulting in the deaths of the entire royal family.
Resolution: As he lay dying, Hamlet tells Horatio to make Fortinbras the king of Denmark and to share his story. Fortinbras arrives and speaks hopefully about the future of Denmark.
Artist's rendition of Hamlet's murder of King Claudius
#2: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Exposition: Lockwood arrives at Wuthering Heights to meet with Heathcliff, a wealthy landlord, about renting Thrushcross Grange, another manor just a few miles away. While staying overnight, he sees the ghost of a woman named Catherine. After settling in at the Grange, Lockwood asks the housekeeper, Nelly Dean, to relay to him the story of Heathcliff and the Heights.
Rising Action: Most of the rising action takes place in the past when Catherine and Heathcliff were young. We learn that the two children were very close. One day, a dog bite forces Catherine to stay for several weeks at the Grange where the Lintons live, leading her to become infatuated with the young Edgar Linton. Feeling hurt and betrayed, Heathcliff runs away for three years, and Catherine and Edgar get married. Heathcliff then inherits the Heights and marries Edgar’s sister, Isabella, in the hopes of inheriting the Grange as well.
Climax: Catherine becomes sick, gives birth to a daughter named Cathy, and dies. Heathcliff begs Catherine to never leave him, to haunt him—even if it drives him mad.
Falling Action: Many years pass in Nelly's story. A chain of events allows Heathcliff to gain control of both the Heights and the Grange. He then forces the young Cathy to live with him at the Heights and act as a servant. Lockwood leaves the Grange to return to London.
Resolution: Six months later, Lockwood goes back to see Nelly and learns that Heathcliff, still heartbroken and now tired of seeking revenge, has died. Cathy and Hareton fall in love and plan to get married; they inherit the Grange and the Heights. Lockwood visits the graves of Catherine and Heathcliff, noting that both are finally at peace.
#3: Carrie by Stephen King
Exposition: Teenager Carrie is an outcast and lives with her controlling, fiercely religious mother. One day, she starts her period in the showers at school after P.E. Not knowing what menstruation is, Carrie becomes frantic; this causes other students to make fun of her and pelt her with sanitary products. Around this time, Carrie discovers that she has telekinetic powers.
Rising Action: Carrie practices her telekinesis, which grows stronger. The students who previously tormented Carrie in the locker room are punished by their teacher. One girl, Sue, feels remorseful and asks her boyfriend, Tommy, to take Carrie to the prom. But another girl, Chris, wants revenge against Carrie and plans to rig the prom queen election so that Carrie wins. Carrie attends the prom with Tommy and things go well—at first.
Climax: After being named prom queen, Carrie gets onstage in front of the entire school only to be immediately drenched with a bucket of pig’s blood, a plot carried out by Chris and her boyfriend, Billy. Everybody laughs at Carrie, who goes mad and begins using her telekinesis to start fires and kill everyone in sight.
Falling Action: Carrie returns home and is attacked by her mother. She kills her mother and then goes outside again, this time killing Chris and Billy. As Carrie lay dying, Sue comes over to her and Carrie realizes that Sue never intended to hurt her. She dies.
Resolution: The survivors in the town must come to terms with the havoc Carrie wrought. Some feel guilty for not having helped Carrie sooner; Sue goes to a psychiatric hospital. It’s announced that there are no others like Carrie, but we are then shown a letter from a mother discussing her young daughter’s telekinetic abilities.
#4: Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
Exposition: Bella Swan is a high school junior who moves to live with her father in a remote town in Washington State. She meets a strange boy named Edward, and after an initially awkward meeting, the two start to become friends. One day, Edward successfully uses his bare hands to stop a car from crushing Bella, making her realize that something is very different about this boy.
Rising Action: Bella discovers that Edward is a vampire after doing some research and asking him questions. The two develop strong romantic feelings and quickly fall in love. Bella meets Edward’s family of vampires, who happily accept her. When playing baseball together, however, they end up attracting a gang of non-vegetarian vampires. One of these vampires, James, notices that Bella is a human and decides to kill her. Edward and his family work hard to protect Bella, but James lures her to him by making her believe he has kidnapped her mother.
Climax: Tricked by James, Bella is attacked and fed on. At this moment, Edward and his family arrive and kill James. Bella nearly dies from the vampire venom in her blood, but Edward sucks it out, saving her life.
Falling Action: Bella wakes up in the hospital, heavily injured but alive. She still wants to be in a relationship with Edward, despite the risks involved, and the two agree to stay together.
Resolution: Months later, Edward takes Bella to the prom. The two have a good time. Bella tells Edward that she wants him to turn her into a vampire right then and there, but he refuses and pretends to bite her neck instead.
Despite what some critics might claim,Twilight does, in fact, have a plot.
Conclusion: So What Is the Plot of a Story?
What is plot? Basically, it’s the chain of events in a story. These events must be purposeful and organized in a logical manner that entices the reader, builds tension, and provides a resolution.
All plots have a beginning, middle, and end, and usually contain the following five points in this order:
#2: Rising action
#3: Climax/turning point
#4: Falling action
Sketching out a plot diagram can help you visualize your story and get a clearer sense for where the climax is, what tensions you'll need to have in order to build up to this turning point, and how you can offer a tight conclusion to your story.
What is plot? A key literary element as it turns out. Learn about other important elements of literature in our guide. We've also got a list of top literary devices you should know.
Working on a novel? Then you will definitely want to know what kinds of tone words you can use, how imagery works, what the big difference between a simile and a metaphor is, and how to write an epilogue.
Interested in writing poetry? Then check out our picks for the 20 most critical poetic devices.
What is plot? Here’s a quick and simple definition:
Plot is the sequence of interconnected events within the story of a play, novel, film, epic, or other narrative literary work. More than simply an account of what happened, plot reveals the cause-and-effect relationships between the events that occur.
Some additional key details about plot:
- The plot of a story explains not just what happens, but how and why the major events of the story take place.
- Plot is a key element of novels, plays, most works of nonfiction, and many (though not all) poems.
- Since ancient times, writers have worked to create theories that can help categorize different types of plot structures.
Here's how to pronounce plot: plaht
The Difference Between Plot and Story
Perhaps the best way to say what a plot is would be to compare it to a story. The two terms are closely related to one another, and as a result, many people often use the terms interchangeably—but they're actually different. A story is a series of events; it tells us what happened. A plot, on the other hand, tells us how the events are connected to one another and why the story unfolded in the way that it did. In Aspects of the Novel, E.M. Forster uses the following examples to distinguish between story and plot:
“The king died, and then the queen died” is a story. “The king died, and then the queen died of grief” is a plot. The time-sequence is preserved, but the sense of causality overshadows it. Or again: “The queen died, no one knew why, until it was discovered that it was through grief at the death of the king.” This is a plot with a mystery in it.
Therefore, when examining a plot, it's helpful to look for events that change the direction of the story and consider how one event leads to another.
The Structure of a Plot
For nearly as long as there have been narratives with plots, there have been people who have tried to analyze and describe the structure of plots. Below we describe two of the most well-known attempts to articulate the general structure of plot.
One of the first and most influential people to create a framework for analyzing plots was 19th-century German writer Gustav Freytag, who argued that all plots can be broken down into five stages: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and dénouement. Freytag originally developed this theory as a way of describing the plots of plays at a time when most plays were divided into five acts, but his five-layered "pyramid" can also be used to analyze the plots of other kinds of stories, including novels, short stories, films, and television shows.
- Exposition is the first section of the plot. During the exposition, the audience is introduced to key background information, including characters and their relationships to one another, the setting (or time and place) of events, and any other relevant ideas, details, or historical context. In a five-act play, the exposition typically occurs in the first act.
- The rising action begins with the "inciting incident" or "complication"—an event that creates a problem or conflict for the characters, setting in motion a series of increasingly significant events. Some critics describe the rising action as the most important part of the plot because the climax and outcome of the story would not take place if the events of the rising action did not occur. In a five-act play, the rising action usually takes place over the course of act two and perhaps part of act three.
- The climaxof a plot is the story's central turning point, which the exposition and the rising action have all been leading up to. The climax is the moment with the greatest tension or conflict. Though the climax is also sometimes called the crisis, it is not necessarily a negative event. In a tragedy, the climax will result in an unhappy ending; but in a comedy, the climax usually makes it clear that the story will have a happy ending. In a five-act play, the climax usually takes place at the end of the third act.
- Whereas the rising action is the series of events leading up to the climax, the falling action is the series of events that follow the climax, ending with the resolution, an event that indicates that the story is reaching its end. In a five-act play, the falling action usually takes place over the course of the fourth act, ending with the resolution.
- Dénouement is a French word meaning "outcome." In literary theory, it refers to the part of the plot which ties up loose ends and reveals the final consequences of the events of the story. During the dénouement, the author resolves any final or outstanding questions about the characters’ fates, and may even reveal a little bit about the characters’ futures after the resolution of the story. In a five-act play, the dénouement takes place in the fifth act.
While Freytag's pyramid is very handy, not every work of literature fits neatly into its structure. In fact, many modernist and post-modern writers intentionally subvert the standard narrative and plot structure that Freytag's pyramid represents.
In his 2004 book The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, Christopher Booker outlines an overarching "meta-plot" which he argues can be used to describe the plot structure of almost every story. Like Freytag's pyramid, Booker's meta-plot has five stages:
- The anticipation stage, in which the hero prepares to embark on adventure;
- The dream stage, in which the hero overcomes a series of minor challenges and gains a sense of confidence and invincibility;
- The frustration stage, in which the hero confronts the villain of the story;
- The nightmare stage, in which the hero fears they will be unable to overcome their enemy;
- The resolution, in which the hero finally triumphs.
Of course, like Freytag's Pyramid, Booker's meta-plot isn't actually a fool-proof way of describing the structure of every plot, but rather an attempt to describe structural elements that many (if not most) plots have in common.
Types of Plot
In addition to analyzing the general structure of plots, many scholars and critics have attempted to describe the different types of plot that serve as the basis of most narratives.
Booker's Seven Basic Plots
Within the overarching structure of Booker's "meta-plot" (as described above), Booker argues that plot types can be further subdivided into the following seven categories. Booker himself borrows most of these definitions of plot types from much earlier writers, such as Aristotle. Here's a closer look at each of the seven types:
- Comedy: In a comedy, characters face a series of increasingly absurd challenges, conflicts, and misunderstandings, culminating in a moment of revelation, when the confusion of the early part of the plot is resolved and the story ends happily. In romantic comedies, the early conflicts in the plot act as obstacles to a happy romantic relationship, but the conflicts are resolved and the plot ends with an orderly conclusion (and often a wedding). A Midsummer Night's Dream, When Harry Met Sally, and Pride and Prejudice are all examples of comedies.
- Tragedy: The plot of a tragedy follows a tragic hero—a likable, well-respected, morally upstanding character who has a tragic flaw or who makes some sort of fatal mistake (both flaw and/or mistake are known as hamartia). When the tragic hero becomes aware of his mistake (this realization is called anagnorisis), his happy life is destroyed. This reversal of fate (known as peripeteia) leads to the plot's tragic ending and, frequently, the hero's death. Booker's tragic plot is based on Aristotle's theory of tragedy, which in turn was based on patterns in classical drama and epic poetry. Antigone, Hamlet, and The Great Gatsbyare all examples of tragedies.
- Rebirth: In stories with a rebirth plot, one character is literally or metaphorically imprisoned by a dark force, enchantment, and/or character flaw. Through an act of love, another character helps the imprisoned character overcome the dark force, enchantment, or character flaw. Many stories of rebirth allude to Jesus Christ or other religious figures who sacrificed themselves for others and were resurrected. Beauty and the Beast, The Snow Queen, and A Christmas Carolare all examples of stories with rebirth plots.
- Overcoming the Monster: The hero sets out to fight an evil force and thereby protect their loved ones or their society. The "monster" could be literal or metaphorical: in ancient Greek mythology, Perseus battles the monster Medusa, but in the television show Good Girls Revolt, a group of women files a lawsuit in order to fight discriminatory policies in their workplace. Both examples follow the "Overcoming the Monster" plot, as does the epic poem Beowulf.
- Rags-to-Riches: In a rags-to-riches plot, a disadvantaged person comes very close to gaining success and wealth, but then appears to lose everything, before they finally achieve the happy life they have always deserved. Cinderella and Oliver Twist are classic rags-to-riches stories; movies with rags-to-riches plots include Slumdog Millionaire and Joy.
- The Quest: In a quest story, a hero sets out to accomplish a specific task, aided by a group of friends. Often, though not always, the hero is looking for an object endowed with supernatural powers. Along the way, the hero and their friends face challenges together, but the hero must complete the final stage of the quest alone. The Celtic myth of "The Fisher-King and the Holy Grail" is one of the oldest quest stories; Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a satire that follows the same plot structure; while Heart of Darkness plays with the model of a quest but has the quest end not with the discovery of a treasure or enlightenment but rather with emptiness and disillusionment.
- Voyage and Return: The hero goes on a literal journey to an unfamiliar place where they overcome a series of challenges, then return home with wisdom and experience that help them live a happier life. The Odyssey, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Chronicles of Narnia, and Eat, Pray, Love all follow the voyage and return plot.
As you can probably see, there's lots of room for these categories to overlap. This is one of the problems with trying to create any sort of categorization scheme for plots such as this—an issue we'll cover in greater detail below.
The Hero's Journey
The Hero's Journey is an attempt to describe a narrativearchetype, or a common plot type that has specific details and structure (also known as a monomyth). The Hero's Journey plot follows a protagonist's journey from the known to the unknown, and back to the known world again. The journey can be a literal one, as in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, or a purely metaphorical one. Regardless, the protagonist is a changed person by the end of the story. The Hero's Journey structure was first popularized by Joseph Campbell's 1949 book The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Later, theorists David Adams Leeming, Phil Cousineau, and Christopher Vogler all developed their own versions of the Hero's Journey structure. Each of these theorists divides The Hero's Journey into slightly different stages (Campbell identifies 17 stages, whereas Vogler finds 12 stages and Leeming and Cousineau use just 8). Below, we'll take a closer look at the 12 stages that Vogler outlines in his analysis of this plot type:
- The Ordinary World: When the story begins, the hero is a seemingly ordinary person living an ordinary life. This section of the story often includes expository details about the story's setting and the hero's background and personality.
- The Call to Adventure: Soon, the hero's ordinary life is interrupted when someone or something gives them an opportunity to go on a quest. Often, the hero is asked to find something or someone, or to defeat a powerful enemy. The call to adventure sometimes, but not always, involves a supernatural event. (In Star Wars: A New Hope, the call to adventure occurs when Luke sees the message from Leia to Obi-Wan Kenobi.)
- The Refusal of the Call: Some heroes are initially reluctant to embark on their journey and instead attempt to continue living their ordinary life. When this refusal takes place, it is followed by another event that prompts the hero to accept the call to adventure (Luke's aunt and uncle getting killed in Star Wars).
- Meeting the Mentor: The hero meets a mentor: a wiser, more experienced person who gives them advice and guidance. The mentor trains and protects the hero until the hero is ready to embark on the next phase of the journey. (Obi-Wan Kenobi is Luke's mentor in Star Wars.)
- Crossing the Threshold: The hero "crosses the threshold" when they have left the familiar, ordinary world behind. Some heroes are eager to enter a new and unfamiliar world, while others may be uncertain if they are making the right choice, but in either case, once the hero crosses the threshold, there is no way to turn back. (Luke about to enter Mos Eisley, or of Frodo leaving the Shire in Lord of the Rings.)
- Tests, Allies, and Enemies: As the hero continues on their journey, they face a series of increasingly difficult "tests" or challenges. Along the way, they acquire friends who help them overcome these challenges, and enemies who attempt to thwart their quest. The hero may defeat some enemies during this phase or find ways to keep them temporarily at bay. These challenges help the reader develop a better a sense of the hero's strengths and weaknesses, and they help the hero become wiser and more experienced. This phase is part of the rising action.
- Approach to the Innermost Cave: At this stage, the hero prepares to face the greatest challenge of the journey, which lies within the "innermost cave." In some stories, the hero must literally enter an isolated and dangerous place and do battle with an evil force; in others, the hero must confront a fear or face an internal conflict; or, the hero may do both. You can think of the approach to the innermost cave as a second threshold—a moment when the hero faces their doubts and fears and decides to continue on the quest. (Think of Frodo entering Mordor, or Harry Potter entering the Forbidden Forest with the Deathly Hallows, ready to confront Lord Voldemort.)
- The Ordeal: The ordeal is the greatest challenge that the hero faces. It may take the form of a battle or physically dangerous task, or it may represent a moral or personal crisis that threatens to destroy the hero. Earlier (in the "Tests, Allies, and Enemies" phase), the hero might have overcome challenges with the help of friends, but the hero must face the ordeal alone. The outcome of the ordeal often determines the fate of the hero's loved ones, society, or the world itself. In many stories, the ordeal involves a literal or metaphorical resurrection, in which the hero dies or has a near-death experience, and is reborn with new knowledge or abilities. This constitutes the climax of the story.
- Reward: After surviving the ordeal, the hero receives a reward of some kind. Depending on the story, it may come in the form of new wisdom and personal strengths, the love of a romantic interest, a supernatural power, or a physical prize. The hero takes the reward or rewards with them as they return to the ordinary world.
- The Road Back: The hero begins to make their way home, either by retracing their steps or with the aid of supernatural powers. They may face a few minor challenges or setbacks along the way. This phase is part of the falling action.
- The Resurrection: The hero faces one final challenge in which they must use all of the powers and knowledge that they have gained throughout their journey. When the hero triumphs, their rebirth is completed and their new identity is affirmed. This phase is not present in all versions of the hero's journey.
- Return with the Elixir: The hero reenters the ordinary world, where they find that they have changed (and perhaps their home has changed too). Among the things they bring with them when they return is an "elixir," or something that will transform their ordinary life for the better. The elixir could be a literal potion or gift, or it may take the form of the hero's newfound perspective on life: the hero now possesses love, forgiveness, knowledge, or another quality that will help them build a better life.
Other Genre-Specific Plots
Apart from the plot types described above (the "Hero's Journey" and Booker's seven basic plots), there are a couple common plot types worth mentioning. When a story uses one of the following plots, it usually means that it belongs to a specific genre of literature—so these plot structures can be thought of as being specific to their respective genres.
- Mystery: A story that centers around the solving of a baffling crime—especially a murder. The plot structure of a mystery can often be described using Freytag's pyramid (i.e., it has exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement), but the plots of mysteries also tend to follow other, more genre-specific conventions, such as the gradual discovery of clues culminating in the revelation of the culprit's identity as well as their motive. In a typical story (i.e., a non-mystery) key characters and their motives are usually revealed before the central conflict arises, not after.
- Bindungsroman: A story that shows a young protagonist's journey from childhood to adulthood (or immaturity to maturity), with a focus on the trials and misfortunes that affect the character's growth. The term "coming-of-age novel" is sometimes used interchangeably with Bildungsroman. This is not necessarily incorrect—in most cases the terms can be used interchangeably—but Bildungsroman carries the connotation of a specific and well-defined literary tradition, which tends to follow certain genre-specific conventions (for example, the main character often gets sent away from home, falls in love, and squanders their fortune). The climax of the Bildungsroman typically coincides with the protagonist reaching maturity.
Other Attempts to Classify Types of Plots
In addition to Freytag, Booker, and Campbell, many other theorists and literary critics have created systems classifying different kinds of plot structures. Among the best known are:
- William Foster-Harris, who outlined three archetypal plot structures in The Basic Patterns of Plot
- Ronald R. Tobias, who wrote a book claiming there are 20 Master Plots
- Georges Polti, who argued there are in fact Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations
- Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch, who in the early twentieth century outlined seven types of plot
And then there are the more atypical approaches to classifying the different types of plots:
- In 1965, the University of Chicago rejected Kurt Vonnegut's college thesis, which claimed that folktales and fairy tales shared common structures, or "shapes," including "man in a hole," "boy gets girl" and "Cinderella." He went on to write Slaughterhouse-Five, a novel which subverts traditional narrative structures, and later developed a lecture based on his failed thesis.
- Two recent studies, led by University of Nebraska professor Matthew Jockers and researchers at the University of Adelaide and the University of Vermont respectively, have used machine learning to analyze the plot structures and emotional ups-and-downs of stories. Both projects concluded that there are six types of stories.
Criticism of Efforts to Categorize Plot Types
Some critics argue that though archetypal plot structures can be useful tools for both writers and readers, we shouldn't rely on them too heavily when analyzing a work of literature. One such skeptic is New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani, who in a 2005 review described Christopher Booker's Seven Basic Plots as "sometimes absorbing and often blockheaded." Kakutani writes that while Booker finds interesting ways to categorize stories by plot type, he is too fixated on finding stories that fit these plot types perfectly. As a result, Booker tends to idealize overly simplistic stories (and Hollywood films in particular), instead of analyzing more complex stories that may not fit the conventions of his seven plot types. Kakutani argues that, as a result of this approach, Booker undervalues modern and contemporary writers who structure their plots in different and innovative ways.
Kakutani's argument is a reminder that while some great works of literature may follow archetypal plot structures, they may also have unconventional plot structures that defy categorization. Authors who use nonlinear structures or multiple narrators often intentionally create stories that do not perfectly fit any of the "plot types" discussed above. William Faulker's The Sound and the Fury and Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad are both examples of this kind of work. Even William Shakespeare, who wrote many of his plays following the traditional structures for tragedies and comedies, authored several "problem plays," which many scholars struggle to categorize as strictly tragedy or comedy: All's Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure, Troilus and Cressida, The Winter's Tale, Timon of Athens, and The Merchant of Veniceare all examples of "problem plays."
The following examples are representative of some of the most common types of plot.
The "Hero's Journey" Plot in The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
The plot of The Hobbitclosely follows the structure of a typical hero's journey.
- The Ordinary World: At the beginning of The Hobbit, the story's hero, Bilbo Baggins, is living a comfortable life alongside his fellow hobbits in the Shire. (Hobbits are short, human-like creatures predisposed to peaceful, domestic routines.)
- The Call to Adventure: The wizard Gandalf arrives in the Shire with a band of 13 dwarves and asks Bilbo to go with them to Lonely Mountain in order to reclaim the dwarves' treasure, which has been stolen by the dragon Smaug.
- The Refusal of the Call: At first, Bilbo refuses to join Gandalf and the dwarves, explaining that it isn't in a hobbit's nature to go on adventures.
- Meeting the Mentor: Gandalf, who serves as Bilbo's mentor throughout The Hobbit, persuades Bilbo to join the dwarves on their journey.
- Cross the Threshold: Gandalf takes Bilbo to meet the dwarves at the Green Dragon Inn in Bywater, and the group leaves the Shire together.
- Tests, Allies, and Enemies: Bilbo faces many challenges and trials on the way to the Lonely Mountain. Early in the trip, they are kidnapped by trolls and are rescued by Gandalf. Bilbo takes an elvish dagger from the trolls' supply of weapons that he uses throughout the rest of the journey. Soon Bilbo and the dwarves are captured by goblins, but they are rescued by Gandalf who also kills the Great Goblin. Later, Bilbo finds a magical ring (which becomes the focus of the Lord of the Rings books), and when the dwarves are captured later in the journey (once by giant spiders and once by elves), Bilbo uses the ring and the dagger to rescue them. Finally, Bilbo and the dwarves arrive at Lake Town, near the Lonely Mountain.
- Approach to the Innermost Cave: Bilbo and the dwarves makes his way from Lake Town to the Lonely Mountain, where the dragon Smaug is guarding the dwarves' treasure. Bilbo alone is brave enough to enter the Smaug's lair. Bilbo steals a cup from Smaug, and also learns that Smaug has a weak spot in his scaly armor. Enraged at Bilbo's theft, Smaug flies to Lake-Town and devastates it, but is killed by a human archer who learns of Smaug's weak spot from a bird that overheard Bilbo speaking of it.
- The Ordeal: After Smaug's death, elves and humans march to the Lonely Mountain to claim what they believe is their portion of the treasure (as Smaug plundered from them, too). The dwarves refuse to share the treasure and a battle seems evident, but Bilbo steals the most beautiful gem from the treasure and gives it to the humans and elves. The greedy dwarves banish Bilbo from their company. Meanwhile, an army of wargs (magical wolves) and goblins descend on the Lonely Mountain to take vengeance on the dwarves for the death of the Great Goblin. The dwarves, humans, and elves form an alliance to fight the wargs and goblins, and eventually triumph, though Bilbo is knocked unconscious for much of the battle. (It might seem odd that Bilbo doesn't participate in the battle, but that fact also seems to suggest that the true ordeal of the novel was not the battle but rather Bilbo's moral choice to steal the gem and give it to the men and elves to counter the dwarves growing greed.)
- Reward: The victorious dwarves, humans, and elves share the treasure among themselves, and Bilbo receives a share of the treasure, which he takes home, along with the dagger and the ring.
- The Road Back: It takes Bilbo and Gandalf nearly a year to travel back to the Shire. During that time they e-visit with some of the people they met on their journey out and have many adventures, though none are as difficult as those they undertook on the way to the Lonely Mountain.
- The Resurrection: Bilbo's return to the Shire as a changed person is underlined by the fact that he has been away so long, the other hobbits in the Shire believe that he has died and are preparing to sell his house and belongings.
- Return with the Elixir: Bilbo returns to the shire with the ring, the dagger, and his treasure—enough to make him rich. He also has his memories of the adventure, which he turns into a book.
Other examples of the Hero's Journey Plot Structure:
The Comedic Plot in Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare's play, Twelfth Night, is generally described as a comedy and follows what Booker would call comedic plot structure. At the beginning of the play, the protagonist, Viola is shipwrecked far from home in the kingdom of Illyria. Her twin brother, Sebastian, appears to have died in the storm. Viola disguises herself as a boy, calls herself Cesario, and gets a job as the servant of Count Orsino, who is in love with the Lady Olivia. When Orsino sends Cesario to deliver romantic messages to Olivia on his behalf, Olivia falls in love with Cesario. Meanwhile, Viola falls in love with Orsino, but she cannot confess her love without revealing her disguise.
In another subplot, Olivia's uncle Toby and his friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek persuade the servant Maria to play a prank convincing another servant, Malvolio, that Olivia loves him. The plot thickens when Sebastian (Viola's lost twin) arrives in town and marries Olivia, who believes she is marrying Cesario. At the end of the play, Viola is reunited with her brother, reveals her identity, and confesses her love to Orsino, who marries her. In spite of the chaos, misunderstandings, and challenges the characters face in the early part of the plot—a source of much of the play's humor—Twelfth Night reaches an orderly conclusion and ends with two marriages.
Other examples of comedic plot structure:
The Tragic Plot in Macbeth by William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare's play Macbeth follows the tragic plot structure. The tragic hero, Macbeth, is a Scottish nobleman, who receives a prophecy from three witches saying that he will become the Thane of Cawdor and eventually the King. After King Duncan makes Macbeth Thane of Cawdor, Lady Macbeth persuades her husband to fulfill the prophecy by secretly murdering Duncan. He does, and is named King. Later, to ensure that Macbeth will remain king, they also order the assassination of the nobleman Banquo, his son, and the wife and children of the nobleman Macduff. However, as Macbeth protects his throne in ever more bloody ways, Lady Macbeth begins to go mad with guilt. Macbeth consults the witches again, and they reassure him that "no man from woman born can harm Macbeth" and that he will not be defeated until the "wood begins to move" to Dunsinane castle. Therefore, Macbeth is reassured that he is invincible. Lady Macbeth never recovers from her guilt and commits suicide, and Macbeth feels numb and empty, even as he is certain he can never be killed. Meanwhile an army led by Duncan's son Malcolm, their number camouflaged by the branches they carry, so that they look like a moving forest, approaches Dunsinane. In the fighting Macduff reveals he was born by cesarian section, and kills Macbeth.
Macbeth's mistake (hamartia) is his unrelenting ambition to be king, and his trust in the witches' prophecies. He realizes his mistake in a moment of anagnorisis when the forest full of camouflaged soldiers seems to be moving, and he experiences a reversal of fate (peripeteia) when he is defeated by Macduff.
Other examples of tragic plot structure:
The "Rebirth" Plot in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens' novel A Christmas Carolis an example of the "rebirth" plot. The novel's protagonist is the miserable, selfish businessman Ebenezer Scrooge, who mistreats his clerk, Bob Cratchit, who is a loving father struggling to support his family. Scrooge scoffs at the notion that Christmas is a time for joy, love, and generosity. But on Christmas Eve, he is visited by the ghost of his deceased business partner, who warns Scrooge that if he does not change his ways, his spirit will be condemned to wander the earth as a ghost. Later that night, he is visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come. With these ghosts, Scrooge revisits lonely and joyful times of his youth, sees Cratchit celebrating Christmas with his loved ones, and finally foresees his own lonely death. Scrooge awakes on Christmas morning and resolves to change his ways. He not only celebrates Christmas with the Cratchits, but embraces the Christmas spirit of love and generosity all year long. By the end of the novel, Scrooge has been "reborn" through acts of generosity and love.
Other examples of "rebirth" plot structure:
The "Overcoming the Monster" Plot in Beowulf
The Old English epic poem, Beowulf, follows the structure of an "overcoming the monster" plot. In fact, the poem's hero, Beowulf, defeats not just one monster, but three. As a young warrior, Beowulf slays Grendel, a swamp-dwelling demon who has been raiding the Danish king's mead hall. Later, when Grendel's mother attempts to avenge her son's death, Beowulf kills her, too. Beowulf eventually becomes king of the Geats, and many years later, he battles a dragon who threatens his people. Beowulf manages to kill the dragon, but dies from his wounds, and is given a hero's funeral. Three times, Beowulf succeeds in protecting his people by defeating a monster.
Other examples of the overcoming the monster plot structure:
The "Rags-to-Riches" Plot in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Charlotte Brontë's novel Jane Eyreis an example of a "rags-to-riches" plot. The protagonist, Jane, is a mistreated orphan who is eventually sent away to a boarding school where students are severely mistreated. Jane survives the school and goes on to become a governess at Thornfield Manor, where Jane falls in love with Mr. Rochester. The two become engaged, but on their wedding day, Jane discovers that Rochester's first wife, Bertha, has gone insane and is imprisoned in Thornfield's attic. She leaves Rochester and ends up finding long-lost cousins. After a time, her very religious cousin, St. John, proposes to her. Jane almost accepts, but then rejects the proposal. She returns to Thornfield to discover that Bertha started a house fire and leapt off the roof of the burning building to her death, and that Rochester had been blinded by the fire in an attempt to save Bertha. Jane and Rochester marry, and live a quiet and happy life together. Jane begins the story with nothing, seems poised to achieve true happiness before losing everything, but ultimately has a happy ending.
Other examples of the rags-to-riches plot structure:
- Cinderella by Charles Perrault
- David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
- Oliver Twistby Charles Dickens
- The Once and Future King by T.H. White
- Villette by Charlotte Brontë
- Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
- Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackery
The Quest Plot in Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse, follows the structure of the "quest" plot. The novel's protagonist, Siddartha, leaves his hometown in search of spiritual enlightenment, accompanied by his friend, Govinda. On their journey, they join a band of holy men who seek enlightenment through self-denial, and later, they study with a group of Bhuddists. Disillusioned with religion, Siddartha leaves Govinda and the Bhuddists behind and takes up a hedonistic lifestyle with the beautiful Kamala. Still unsatisfied with his life, he considers suicide in a river, but instead decides to apprentice himself to the man who runs the ferry boat. By studying the river, Siddhartha eventually obtains enlightenment.
Other examples of the quest plot structure:
The "Voyage and Return" Plot in Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston's novel Their Eyes Were Watching Godfollows what Booker would describe as a voyage and return plot structure. The plot follows the hero, Janie, as she seeks love and happiness. The novel begins and ends in Eatonville, Florida, where Janie was brought up by her grandmother. Janie has three romantic relationships, each better than the last. She marries a man named Logan Killicks on her grandmother's advice, but she finds the marriage stifling and she soon leaves him. Janie's second, more stable marriage to the prosperous Joe Starks lasts 20 years, but Janie does not feel truly loved by him. After Joe dies, she marries Tea Cake, a farm worker who loves, respects, and cherishes her. They move to the Everglades and live there happily for just over a year, when Tea Cake dies of rabies after getting bitten by a dog during a hurricane. Janie mourns Tea Cake's death, but returns to Eatonville with a sense of peace: she has known true love, and she will always carry her memories of Tea Cake with her. Her journey and her return home have made her stronger and wiser.
Other examples of the voyage and return plot structure:
Other Helpful Plot Resources
How to Write a Plot Summary
Writing a book summary may seem simple -- if you take that to mean simply regurgitating the events within a story. However, it's important to not only discuss the events of a story but also demonstrate understanding of how the events are interrelated and driven by the characters involved. When summarizing the events in a story, focus on the main points of the narrative arc.
Summarize the Exposition
The exposition is simply the beginning of a story, in which the author "sets the stage" for the events to come. The characters and setting are introduced, and the main conflict of the story is hinted at. For example, a summary of the exposition of "The Great Gatsby" could read, "A young businessman, Nick Carraway, moves to Long Island in the 1920s and meets Jay Gatsby, a rich bachelor with a mysterious past." Introducing the main characters, the setting and the plot allows the reader to understand the main context of the story.
Define the Inciting Incident
After a summary discusses the exposition, shift the focus to the inciting incident and the rising action within the story. The inciting incident is a singular event that "kicks off" the story and leads to the major conflict within the novel. This leads to the rising action, in which the story continues to build and eventually comes to a point where the main character might have to take drastic action -- or might miss her opportunity to do this.
For example, in Shakespeare's "Hamlet," the Danish prince discovers that his father was murdered by his own brother, which leads to the infamously tragic events to come. The revelations of the inciting incident and rising action result in events that may alter the future in unchangeable ways. A comprehensive plot summary defines the inciting incident, briefly describes it and outlines the events that lead to the highest point of action.
Discuss the Climax
All stories eventually reach a "point of no return," the climax. The climax is an event that changes the course of a story, for better or worse. For example, the climax of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" happens when Romeo murders Juliet's cousin, Tybalt, in a duel. In your plot summary, define the consequences or results of this point in the plot. Although Romeo and Juliet's romance had been forbidden, it becomes near impossible to maintain after Tybalt's death, since Romeo is banished to Mantua. His banishment furthers the symbolic divide between the two feuding families. The climax often changes the characters and can set off a chain reaction of events.
Tie It Up
The falling action of a story is the "fall out" that comes as a result of the climax -- the chain reaction. In "Romeo and Juliet," the falling action is so dramatic -- the tragic suicides of the young lovers -- that people might think this event is the climax; however, this famous tragic scene is the result of the events triggered in the duel of the climax. The plot's resolution is not always as "happily ever after" as the phrase suggests. The resolution show how characters respond to the events that transpired earlier in the narrative arc.
For example, as the curtains close at the end of "Romeo and Juliet," the two families vow to end their feud. Although this does not bring their children back to life, it suggests a social change brought about by tragic loss. In your plot summary, explain how characters respond to the events of the story -- and what, if any, lessons they may have taken away from the experiences.
I. What is Plot?
In a narrative or creative writing, a plot is the sequence of events that make up a story, whether it’s told, written, filmed, or sung. The plot is the story, and more specifically, how the story develops, unfolds, and moves in time. Plots are typically made up of five main elements:
1. Exposition: At the beginning of the story, characters, setting, and the main conflict are typically introduced.
2. Rising Action: The main character is in crisis and events leading up to facing the conflict begin to unfold. The story becomes complicated.
3. Climax: At the peak of the story, a major event occurs in which the main character faces a major enemy, fear, challenge, or other source of conflict. The most action, drama, change, and excitement occurs here.
4. Falling Action: The story begins to slow down and work towards its end, tying up loose ends.
5. Resolution/Denoument: Also known as the denouement, the resolution is like a concluding paragraph that resolves any remaining issues and ends the story.
Plots, also known as storylines, include the most significant events of the story and how the characters and their problems change over time.
II. Examples of Plot
Here are a few very short stories with sample plots:
Kaitlin wants to buy a puppy. She goes to the pound and begins looking through the cages for her future pet. At the end of the hallway, she sees a small, sweet brown dog with a white spot on its nose. At that instant, she knows she wants to adopt him. After he receives shots and a medical check, she and the dog, Berkley, go home together.
In this example, the exposition introduces us to Kaitlin and her conflict. She wants a puppy but does not have one. The rising action occurs as she enters the pound and begins looking. The climax is when she sees the dog of her dreams and decides to adopt him. The falling action consists of a quick medical check before the resolution, or ending, when Kaitlin and Berkley happily head home.
Scott wants to be on the football team, but he’s worried he won’t make the team. He spends weeks working out as hard as possible, preparing for try outs. At try outs, he amazes coaches with his skill as a quarterback. They ask him to be their starting quarterback that year and give him a jersey. Scott leaves the field, ecstatic!
The exposition introduces Scott and his conflict: he wants to be on the team but he doubts his ability to make it. The rising action consists of his training and tryout; the climax occurs when the coaches tell him he’s been chosen to be quarterback. The falling action is when Scott takes a jersey and the resolution is him leaving the try-outs as a new, happy quarterback.
Each of these stories has
- an exposition as characters and conflicts are introduced
- a rising action which brings the character to the climax as conflicts are developed and faced, and
- a falling action and resolution as the story concludes.
III. Types of Plot
There are many types of plots in the world! But, realistically, most of them fit some pattern that we can see in more than one story. Here are some classic plots that can be seen in numerous stories all over the world and throughout history.
a. Overcoming the Monster
The protagonist must defeat a monster or force in order to save some people—usually everybody! Most often, the protagonist is forced into this conflict, and comes out of it as a hero, or even a king. This is one version of the world’s most universal and compelling plot—the ‘monomyth’ described by the great thinker Joseph Campbell.
Beowulf, Harry Potter, and Star Wars.
b. Rags to Riches:
This story can begin with the protagonist being poor or rich, but at some point, the protagonist will have everything, lose everything, and then gain it all back by the end of the story, after experiencing great personal growth.
The Count of Monte Cristo, Cinderella, and Jane Eyre.
c. The Quest:
The protagonist embarks on a quest involving travel and dangerous adventures in order to find treasure or solve a huge problem. Usually, the protagonist is forced to begin the quest but makes friends that help face the many tests and obstacles along the way. This is also a version of Campbell’s monomyth.
The Iliad, The Lord of the Rings, and Eragon
d. Voyage and Return:
The protagonist goes on a journey to a strange or unknown place, facing danger and adventures along the way, returning home with experience and understanding. This is also a version of the monomyth.
Alice in Wonderland, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Wizard of Oz
A happy and fun character finds a happy ending after triumphing over difficulties and adversities.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Home Alone
The protagonist experiences a conflict which leads to very bad ending, typically death.
Romeo and Juliet, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Macbeth
The protagonist is a villain who becomes a good person through the experience of the story’s conflict.
The Secret Garden, A Christmas Carol, The Grinch
As these seven examples show, many stories follow a common pattern. In fact, according to many thinkers, such as the great novelist Kurt Vonnegut, and Joseph Campbell, there are only a few basic patterns, which are mixed and combined to form all stories.
IV. The Importance of Using Plot
The plot is what makes a story a story. It gives the story character development, suspense, energy, and emotional release (also known as ‘catharsis’). It allows an author to develop themes and most importantly, conflict that makes a story emotionally engaging; everybody knows how hard it is to stop watching a movie before the conflict is resolved.
V. Examples of Plot in Literature
Plots can be found in all kinds of fiction. Here are a few examples.
The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham
In The Razor’s Edge, Larry Darrell returns from World War I disillusioned. His fiancée, friends, and family urge him to find work, but he does not want to. He embarks on a voyage through Europe and Asia seeking higher truth. Finally, in Asia, he finds a more meaningful way of life.
In this novel, the plot follows the protagonist Larry as he seeks meaningful experiences. The story begins with the exposition of a disillusioned young man who does not want to work. The rising action occurs as he travels seeking an education. The story climaxes when he becomes a man perfectly at peace in meditation.
The Road not Taken’ by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost’s famous poem “The Road Not Taken,” has a very clear plot: The exposition occurs when a man stands at the fork of two roads, his conflict being which road to take. The climax occurs when he chooses the unique path. The resolution announces that “that has made all the difference,” meaning the man has made a significant and meaningful decision.
VI. Examples of Plot in Pop Culture
Plots can also be found in television shows, movies, thoughtful storytelling advertisements, and song lyrics. Below are a few examples of plot in pop culture.
“Love Story” (excerpts) by Taylor Swift:
I’m standing there on a balcony in summer air.
See the lights, see the party, the ball gowns.
See you make your way through the crowd
And say, “Hello, ”
Little did I know…
That you were Romeo, you were throwing pebbles,
And my daddy said, “Stay away from Juliet”
And I was crying on the staircase
Begging you, “Please don’t go”
So I sneak out to the garden to see you.
We keep quiet ’cause we’re dead if they knew
So close your eyes… escape this town for a little while.
. . .
He knelts to the ground and pulled out a ring and said…
“Marry me, Juliet, you’ll never have to be alone.
I love you, and that’s all I really know.
I talked to your dad – go pick out a white dress
It’s a love story, baby, just say, ‘Yes.'”
These excerpts reveal the plot of this song: the exposition occurs when we see two characters: a young woman and young man falling in love. The rising action occurs as the father forbids her from seeing the man and they continue see one another in secret. Finally, the climax occurs when the young man asks her to marry him and the two agree to make their love story come true.
Minions Official Trailer #1 (2015) - Despicable Me Prequel HD
Minions have a goal to serve the most despicable master. Their rising action is their search for the best leader, the conflict being that they cannot keep one. Movie trailers encourage viewers to see the movie by showing the conflict but not the climax or resolution.
VII. Related Terms
Many people use outlines which to create complex plots, or arguments in formal essays. In a story, an outline is a list of the scenes in the plot with brief descriptions. Like the skeleton is to the body, an outline is the framework upon which the rest of the story is built when it is written. In essays, outlines are used to help organize ideas into strong arguments and paragraphs that connect to each other in sensible ways.
The climax is considered the most important element of the plot. It contains the highest point of tension, drama, and change. The climax is when the conflict is finally faced and overcome. Without a climax, a plot does not exist.
For example, consider this simple plot:
The good army is about to face the evil army in a terrible battle. During this battle, the good army prevails and wins the war at last. After the war has ended, the two sides make piece and begin rebuilding the countryside which was ruined by the years-long war.
The climax occurred when the good army defeated the bad army. Without this climax, the story would simply be a never-ending war between a good army and bad army, with no happy or sad ending in sight. Here, the climax is absolutely necessary for a meaningful story with a clear ending.
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Plot definition: Plot is the way an author develops a series of events in a text.
What is a Plot?
What does plot mean? Plot is the storyline of a text. An author puts together a series of events to create a story. The sequence of that series of events is the plot.
Typically, an author develops a plot in such a way to pique the reader’s interest. That said, the storyline is not usually resolved until the near end of the text.
A simple example of plot using the fable The Tortoise and The Hare,
- A race was run between a tortoise and a hare
- The hare was sure he would win.
- He stopped frequently along the way to display his confidence.
- The tortoise did not think he would win but never gave up.
- The hare became distracted.
- The tortoise crossed the finish line first and won the race.
Structures of Traditional Plots
There is a traditional plot structure that many texts follow. Below is a common plot line example.
The exposition is the introduction to the story. Characters and setting are introduced.
The rising action presents a central conflict within a character or between one or more character. The conflict builds during the rising action.
The climax occurs when the conflict is at its peak and when there seems to be no viable solution to the conflict.
The falling action occurs after the climax when the reader is still unsure if the protagonist will be able to resolve the conflict.
The denouement (also called the resolution) is the conclusion to the plot. Typically, the conflict is resolved at this point.
The Function of Plot
A story does not exist without a plot. A plot includes every event that occurs throughout a text.
The plot should be developed in such a way to interest the readers and to keep them guessing at the next points.
A good plot is one that has well-developed characters who are engaging in several conflicts.
Plot Examples in Literature
When an author writes a text, he wants to create interest for his readers. The overarching way for a writer to achieve this is through plot.
Readers put down a book because the storyline is uninteresting to them; furthermore, readers continue to read a text because of its plot components.
Some good examples of literary plots are held within the works of Shakespeare. Most Shakespeare plays follow the traditional plot structure, where Act I serves as the exposition, Act 3 the climax, and Act 5 the denouement.
Uses of Plot in Everyday Language
- The result is a story at once fabulist and searingly precise, driven by a deadpan voice that manages to do equal literary justice to the suspense of the plot, the author’s version of historical truth and the emotions evoked by its protagonist, the young runaway slave Cora. –The Wall Street Journal
- Book groups have been a popular plot device in commercial fiction. It’s a handy way to get a group of people together, and they’ll always have something to talk about. –The Washington Post
Summary: What is Plot in Literature?
Define plot in literature: the definition of plot in literature is the sequence of events that made up a storyline.
In summary, a plot is the basic storyline of a text. Most plots follow a traditional pattern, where the climax is the turning point of the text. A good plot generally leads to an interesting novel, as plot encompasses most literary elements.