Elements of Literature: Plot

Table of Contents | Introduction | About the Author

Plot is a literary term used to describe the basic action within a work of fiction. In a strongly plotted story, the events usually follow this pattern: a conflict or problem is established; complications arise from the conflict; a main character takes decisive action, or the situation itself brings about a climax; the conflict is resolved. Modern short stories and novels, however, frequently deviate from this outline. One of the most common is a non-plotted character sketch.

Terms Used to Describe the Plot

Anti-climax describes a plot in which no outcome is ever apparent.

Climax designates the moment of highest tension in the story. It represents the moment when the outcome is decided.

Closed endings are those in which the outcome of the story is apparent to the reader.

Conflict describes some problem or trouble within the story. It frequently falls into one of the following categories: man vs. man, man vs. himself, man vs. nature, man vs. society, and man vs. fate/God. Man is used here generically. Conflict can also be between women and children.

Denouement is a French word used to describe the final resolution of details within the story. It is everything that occurs after the climax.

Exposition describes the opening events which establish the setting and protagonist.

Falling action describes the falling off of intensity within the story.

Flashback is a literary technique used to insert events out of the order of their occurrence within a story.

Foreshadowing is a method used to hint of events to come. It may be blatant or merely implied.

Open ended stories have outcomes which leave the reader wondering about the outcome.

Parallel scenes are used to show two events occurring at the same time within a story. Frequently the two events are on a collision path along the plot line.

Rising action describes the introduction of the conflict and the resulting complications.

Stream of consciousness is a technique used to tell the story as it might actually be heard within a character's mind. It is frequently rambling and disjointed.

Telescoping is an author's technique of compressing time. It is particularly necessary within a short story. The result is that events which might normally require several days happen within a much shorter span of time.


Plot Questions

  1. Exposition - Who is the protagonist? The antagonist? The foil? Where and when does the story take place?
  2. Conflict - What does the character want? Why can't the character have what he/she wants? With whom or what is the character in conflict?
  3. Rising action - What events occur as the character tries to reach the goal?
  4. Climax - How or when is the goal finally reached?
  5. Falling action - What happens after the climax is finally reached?
  6. Denouement - Is there additional information which adds to the resolution?
  7. Evaluation - Does this story follow the usual pattern of a plot?

Susan Lake and Associates small logo