Good plot and structure are essential when writing a story. You can think of plot and structure as the building blocks or the DNA of a story. You need to have a gripping plot and a solid structure if you want to keep readers engaged. It is very important, once you have worked out what your story is going to be about, to plot and structure it before you start writing. It will save you going off in directions that might not go anywhere…
What is the difference between plot and structure?
Plot is what happens in your story. A plot is unique to your story and refers to how the particular events in your story relate to each other.
Structure refers to how the story is broken up i.e. beginning, middle and end. The same structure can be found in many different stories.
A framework for structure
One common device for structure used in fiction writing is known as the Narrative Arc. This will help to frame any story you are working on. The Narrative Arc can be broken down as follows:
This is the opening of the story. This is where the basic elements like main characters and setting are revealed.
● Rising Action
This takes place in the first third of your story. Something complicates things for your characters and a bit of drama and suspense are introduced.
You can have more than one plot point on the way to the climax of the story. Plot points are mini climaxes – dramatic things that happen that help build towards the climax.
Plot point 1: The first dramatic thing happens
Plot point 2: The next dramatic thing happens
This is the biggest moment in the story – the turning point. It’s all been leading up to this. Here your characters could either succeed or fail at resolving a conflict.
● Falling Action
This is a series of events after the climax that will bring the reader to the end of the story.
You can have more than one plot point as you move towards the end of the story before the resolution
This is the end of the story and where the loose ends are tied up. Readers often feel cheated if you end too abruptly without resolving anything. The ending of the story is where the problems can be resolved or not, the ending can be happy or sad, or both, depending on the type of story you are writing. If the ending is sad readers still like to be left with some sense of hope for the characters in their future.
Remember if you have a solid foundation, it will make writing your story much easier. Take the time to plan your plot and your structure before writing your story and you will find the process will be much easier.
Here is an example using the above model to show how a story can be plotted:
Narrative Arc example
Lusanda is in the school yard at break. She has a crush on Thatho but doesn’t know how he feels about her and wants to find out. Her friend tells her that there is a school dance coming up and that it’s the perfect opportunity to get to know him.
Plot point one:
Lusanda arrives at the dance and her friends encourage her to go and talk to Thato, even though she is shy. Thato and Lusanda chat and find they have things in common. Thatho’s favourite song comes on and he asks Lusanda to dance. She thinks the attraction is mutual.
Plot point two: The dance ends. Thato says he will walk Lusanda home as he lives nearby. She is over the moon. They exchange numbers. As they leave a girl from school comes up and asks Thato how ‘Yonela’ is and why he didn’t bring her to the dance. Lusanda’s heart sinks… she thinks she has misread signals and he has a girlfriend.
Plot point three: Thato texts Lusanda asking her on a date he has something to tell her. She stalks him on Facebook and sees a pic of a girl called Yonela and him on a beach but decides to go and at least listen to what he has to say.
On the way to get a dress for the date she sees him talking to a girl through a restaurant window. He then hugs her. Then he sees Lusanda and rushes out to her. She runs away… in tears.
Plot point four: Lusanda gets calls from Thato begging her to meet with him to explain the situation. She blocks his calls. She feels hurt and rejected and goes to her friends for comfort.
Plot point five: Lusanda has to go to the principal’s office. The door is open and Thato is talking to the principal. She overhears the principal say she is sorry to hear about his mother passing and that it must be so hard for him and for his sister Yonela without her. Lusanda realises she has made a big mistake.
Lusanda finds out where Thato lives and goes to his house. She says she is so sorry about his mother and hugs him. He tells her his mother had been sick for a very long time. He introduces her to Yonela, his sister. Later that night she gets a text saying thank you for understanding and they agree to meet up (a first proper date).
Now you are going to write your own plot points. We have given you the Introduction and Climax but you will have to fill in the plot points and the resolution. We have given you two plot points rising to the climax and two falling to the resolution.
You can choose one of these plots:
Unathi awoke in a room she did not recognise. No one was there except for a man in a dull, grey suit. He was looking down at a little brown notebook as he said, “Hello, do you know who I am?”…
Plot point 1
Plot point 2
With seconds to spare, they cracked the code to the safe. It was empty save for a small piece of paper. They opened it feverishly and read the words, “You are the chosen ones.”
Plot point 3
Plot point 4
Sizwe woke up to a sunny morning. It was the perfect day to go for a swim in the river. As he walked down the path he heard people’s voices up ahead amongst the trees not far from the water. He crept closer then stopped and stared when he saw who it was…
Plot point 1:
Plot point 2:
He held her in his arms to try to keep her warm. She was still alive, but only just.
Plot point 3:
Plot point 4:
Feel free to expand on the number of characters, and the setting. We have just provided the bones – the rest is up to you!