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Plot structure

Freytag's pyramid

Plot is often designed with a narrative structure, storyline or story arc that includes exposition, conflict, rising action and climax, followed by a falling action and resolution.

Exposition: orients the reader to the setting of the story (time and place) and introduces the characters. Exposition is a literary technique concerned with introducing characters and setting. These elements may be largely presented at the beginning of the story, or may occur as a sort of incidental description throughout. Exposition may be handled in a variety of ways — perhaps a character or a set of characters explain the elements of the plot through dialogue or thought, media such as newspaper clippings, and diaries.

Conflict: the primary obstacle that prevents the protagonist from reaching his/her goal. Conflict is the "problem" in a story which triggers the action. There are five basic types of conflict: Person vs. Person: One character in a story has a problem with one or more of the other characters; Person vs. Society: A character has a conflict or problem with society; Person vs. Himself or Herself: A character struggles inside and has trouble deciding what to do; Person vs. Nature: A character has a problem with some element of nature, (e.g., a snowstorm, an avalanche, the bitter cold); Person vs. Fate: A character has to battle what seems to be an uncontrollable problem.

Remember these two things when writing conflict:

· Conflict between the two main characters generates emotional tension.

· Characters are driven by conflict — and they, in turn, will drive the story.

What is emotional conflict?

There are two types of conflict that will progress a romance: internal and external.

Internal conflict can come about by two routes:

· Character: a conflict can grow out of the hero or heroine’s fundamental personality, and will include how their lives and backgrounds have shaped them, what their motivations and aspirations are. For example, your hero is now an international billionaire who is ruthless in business and love, having clawed his way out of an orphaned background in the slums of Naples.

· Emotional conflict: this exists within the central relationship. For instance, an unexpected pregnancy or an arranged marriage can upset two colliding worlds!

External conflict comes from misunderstandings and circumstances. Example: the hero has arrived to take over the heroine’s father’s ailing company and uses her perilous position to blackmail her into a relationship. Or it can come about because of another secondary character’s influence. Example: the hero’s father is dying and wants to see his son married.

Rising action: the complications that occur within the story, prolonging and developing the central conflict. Rising Action is the central part of a story during which various problems arise, leading up to the climax.

Climax: the point of greatest tension in a story; the point of no return. The climax usually features the most conflict and struggle, and usually reveals any secrets or missing points in the story. Alternatively, an anti-climax may occur, in which an expectedly difficult event is revealed to be incredibly easy or of paltry importance. Critics may also label the falling action as an anti-climax. The climax isn't always the most important scene in a story. In many stories, it is the last sentence, with no successive falling action or resolution.

Falling action: the result of the conflict is revealed in the falling action. The falling action is the part of a story following the climax. This part of the story shows the result of the climax, and its effects on the characters, setting, and proceeding events. Critics may label a story with falling action as the anti-climax if they feel that the falling action takes away from the power of the climax.

Denouement: the resolution of the story. The denouement ties up any loose ends in the story. Etymologically, the French word dénouement is derived from the Old French word denoer, "to untie", and from nodus, Latin for "knot". In fiction, a dénouement consists of a series of events that follow the climax, and thus serves as the conclusion of the story. Conflicts are resolved, creating normality for the characters and a sense of catharsis, or release of tension and anxiety, for the reader. Simply put, dénouement is the unraveling or untying of the complexities of a plot. Be aware that not all stories have a resolution.

Structure of the Plot:

I. Introduction: Several things may be introduced at the beginning of the story.

A.Setting: Where and when the story takes place

B.Protagonist: The main character of the story; who the story is about; this character sets the action in motion.

C.Mood: The emotional feeling the reader gets from the setting and character description; the atmosphere.

D.Tone: The attitude of the speaker or narrator.

II. Rising Action: This essentially the point where the protagonist meets the antagonist.

A.Conflict: One force meets an opposing force.

1. Person vs. Person (External Conflict)

2. Person vs. Nature (External Conflict)

3. Person vs. Himself or Herself (Internal Conflict)

4. Person vs. Society (External Conflict)

5. Person vs. Fate, Destiny, God (External Conflict)

B. Antagonist: The character or force which opposes the protagonist.

III. Climax: The point at which the reader can see who will inevitable win the conflict. This can often not be seen until the story is over and the reader looks back on the plot. The climax is not the most exciting part of the story! Some stories do not have exciting parts.

IV. Denouement: This is French for “unknotting” and is essentially the wrapping up of all the loose details of the plot in order to satisfy the reader or audience.

These are the four classic parts of a plot. Depending upon the artist, a story may not have all the parts. Many stories are without a denouement. A story like “The Lady or the Tiger” by Frank Stockton does not have a climax.


You may find that many typical television shows and popular novels follow this particular structure. Most short stories will have these plot elements in them. But they may not follow the typical plot structure outlined here. Writers vary structure depending on the needs of the story. The elements of plot structure may be juxtaposed in atypical ways or typical plot elements are missing or intimated rather than overtly stated.

In comparison with plot composition is a much wider notion. It comprises plot and extra-plot elements (descriptions, meditations, references). Composition is the way of text organization, forming up (shaping) its structure.

Literary composition is the organization — specifically, the arrangement and interrelation — of the diverse components of a written work. It includes the arrangement and correlation of characters (composition as a system of characters), events and actions (composition of the plot), inserted tales and lyrical digressions (composition of elements outside of the plot), methods of narration (narrative composition proper), and details of setting, behavior, and emotions (composition of details).

There are many devices and methods of composition. Events, commonplace objects, facts, and details that appear in disparate parts of the text may prove to be of artistic significance when taken together. A major aspect of composition is succession, or the order in which components appear in the text. Succession is the temporal organization of a literary work, or the unveiling and unfolding of the artistic content. Composition also includes the mutual correlation of the various facets of literary form (such structural concepts as planes, layers, and levels). Many contemporary theorists use the word “structure” as a synonym for composition.

Composition completes the complex unity and wholeness of a work, consummating an artistic form that already is rich in content. Composition has the task of making sure that nothing goes astray but becomes part of a whole, fulfilling the aims of the author; its aim is to arrange all the pieces in such a way that they come together in a complete expression of the idea.

Every work combines general methods of composition that are typical of a particular kind, genre, or tendency with individual methods peculiar to a particular writer or work. Examples of general methods of composition are thrice-repeated motifs in folk tales, recognition and aposiopesis in adventure stories, the rigid strophic form of the sonnet, and slow development in the epic and drama.

In the contemporary study of literature the use of the term “composition” is more limited. In this sense an individual segment of a text functions as an element of composition, in which a particular method of representation is used, such as ongoing narration, descriptive passages, characterization, dialogue, or lyric digression. The most basic elements of composition combine to form more complex components (complete portrait sketches, descriptions of emotional states, and recollections of conversations). In an epic or drama the scene is an even more important and independent component. In the epic it may consist of several forms of representation (description, narration, or monologue). A portrait, landscape, or interior may be included in the scene; however, throughout its entire course one perspective is maintained and a definite point of view is upheld (the author’s, a character’s, or an outside narrator’s). Each scene may be presented as seen solely through the eyes of a particular person. Thus, composition comprises the combination, interaction, and unity of the forms of narration and definite points of view.

Composition of poetry, particularly of lyrical verse, is unique. It is distinguished by strict proportionality and interaction of the rhythmical and metrical units (foot, line, and stanza), syntax and intonations, and the elements that directly convey meaning (themes, motifs, and images).

In 20th-century literature, composition has become especially important. This new importance was reflected in the emergence of the montage, which was initially introduced in motion pictures and later was used in theater and literature.


Date: 2015-01-02; view: 1534

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