The Plot Structure Graph

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Plot Structure Graph

The dandy graph above is the plot structure graph. It applies to all works of fiction including movies.  Using these terms in discussions makes one sound most intelligent. The line itself represents the excitement, suspense, or tension in the story.  The graph shows what might result if the story were somehow hooked up to a “plotometer.” However, most stories have minor up’s and down’s leading to the climax rather than the ideal slow rise shown above.

Exposition is the background information necessary to understanding a story.  It doesn't contain any conflicts, and, consequently, doesn't advance the plot.  In other words, nothing exciting happens in exposition; it's mostly just description of characters or setting.  Remember those little tales Ma and Pa used to tell you as a youngun'?  Most started with something like "Once upon a time there was a pretty girl with long, beautiful hair.  She lived in a castle high on a hill."  That was exposition.

Conflicts are as necessary to a story's excitement as they are in our own lives.  While we might wish to be conflict free, the end result would be colossal boredom.  Conflicts are like rabbits--they exist in many varieties, and all are willing to breed.  Consequently, a story seldom has just one conflict since one usually causes another. There are physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual conflicts, but one usually causes another.  Physical conflicts are also called external conflicts while emotional, mental, and spiritual conflicts are internal conflicts.  Conflicts are categorized in other ways as well.  Man versus man, man vs. self, man vs. society, man vs. fate, man vs. God, man vs. machine, man vs. the supernatural, and man vs. the politically correct group for writing man vs. each time are popular categories. However, these are only categories.  The actual conflicts will be specific ones that mention characters by name.

Rising action refers to the events that happen because of the character's struggle with the conflicts.  On the graph above, it's easy to see why it's called rising action. The inclined line is symbolic of the rising suspense, excitement, etc. in the story.

The climax is the peak of excitement, the top of our plot graph mountain.  It is here that the main character either beats the conflict or is beaten by it. The suspense doesn’t get any higher than at this point.

The falling action is the events that happen after the climax often as a result of them.  We get to see results of beating the conflict or being beaten by it.

The resolution is the new world the character lives in after the story's conflicts are resolved.  Note that the character began on one level at the story's beginning and on a different level after facing the conflict.  On the sample graph, the new level is a higher one; the character's life has improved in some way.  However, he could be on a lower level just as easily.  

These should be familiar elements in the books you've read and the movies you've seen.  Additionally, they are real parts of life.  That's why we read literature; if we read quality stories and think about their content and meaning, we learn about ourselves.  We all have conflicts in our lives, and each conflict has its climax.  By facing them, we learn and have some new information to help us deal with life.  By reading we can learn about life the easy way and avoid the hard way.