Fiction Plot Structure

I found several ideas for writing fiction plots, plot structures,  in an article by Kimberly Appelcline. The article goes into a lot more detail with forms of plot structure. I have taken more from this article than I usually would because the link was tricky, would not load the first few times I tried, though it did eventually. I’ve taken some of this from the article itself (mainly the lists themselves) but have written some of it into my own words and ideas. I did not want to lose the general information as I thought it was something worth hanging on to.

Aristotle wrote the first known analysis of plot, in his Poetics. He stated a plot should have a beginning, middle and an end. To go into further detail, his plot structure included:

  • reversals
  • discoveries
  • complications
  • catastrophe
  • resolution

Four Common Plot Structures:

Episodic: Where you follow the character through a series of adventures. This one makes me think of children’s stories where there are steady ups and downs all the way through. Each crisis is resolved only to wind up in another crisis. At the end there is the final resolution/ reward.

The Hero’s Journey:

  • call to adventure
  • journey through unfamiliar world; hero is tested
  • supreme ordeal
  • reward
  • return and reintegration into society

The Suspense (Mountain) Plot: The suspense builds up and up over the whole story. There are some plateaus where the character figures things out, backtracks a bit but overall it builds until the final climax where everything is resolved.

The W Plot (in the original form which may work better for some):

  • First Barrier: The protagonist begins work toward his objective and encounters the first barrier.
  • First Barrier Reversal: Things don’t look good, but the protagonist manages to overcome the first barrier.
  • Second Barrier: At the high point of the action, just when it looks like the protagonist has it made and his objective is within reach, the rug is suddenly pulled out from under him in the unexpected second reversal.
  • Second Barrier Reversal: At the low point of the action, when things look very grim, the protagonist still has an opportunity to overcome this catastrophe and achieve his objective.
  • Resolution: The protagonist either does or does not pull out of the catastrophe, resolving the plot either tragically or triumphantly.

The following W plot structure comes from Kathleen at Write My Fire. The idea is attributed to Donna MacMeans. Read the details on Write My Fire or just go ahead and give it a try. Presented this way it may work best for science fiction and fantasy but the general plan can be adapted for anything, any genre. Could you even see it work for non-fiction? That would take some creativity and ingenuity.

A. Ordinary World.
B. Inciting Incident.
C. Things Get Worse.
D. Crossing the Threshold.
E. Allies and Enemies.
F. Point of No Return.
G. Things Begin to Fall Apart.
H. The Crisis/Big Black Moment/Turning Point.
I. Return with the Elixir.
J. Happily Ever After/Slow Curtain/Full Circle.

I think this was inspired by 12 plot stages, from The Writer’s Journey, by Christopher Vogler:

  1. Ordinary world
  2. Call to adventure
  3. Refusal of the call
  4. Meeting with the mentor
  5. Crossing the first threshold
  6. Test, allies, enemies
  7. Approach to the inmost cave
  8. Ordeal
  9. Reward
  10. The road back
  11. Resurrection
  12. Return with the elixir

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