As mentioned in my Game of Thrones post from last week, I will be talking about plot today. I’m still in shock that I haven’t covered this topic yet. I will be breaking our discussion of plot down into a few different posts, starting with a beginner’s guide to plot and then delving into the more advanced topics, such as plot armor and messing with the traditional structure. Let’s dive in, shall we?
A Beginner’s Guide to Plot
Let’s start off with our definition:
Plot: is a literary term used to describe the events that make up a story, or the main part of a story. These events relate to each other in a pattern or a sequence.
There are five main elements to a plot: the inciting incident or exposition, rising action, climax, falling action or denouement, and resolution. This structure does not change from story to story. It will occur in every fictional piece of work that you read – whether it is a short story or an epic novel. You can even find this structure in a poem.
Most of us are familiar with how this looks when put into a chart:
So let me break down what each section means and what it entails. We’ll take this on a definition by definition basis.
Exposition: is a literary device used to introduce background information about events, settings, characters, or other elements of a story to readers.
Without the exposition, your readers are not going to know what is happening. It’s your introduction to everything. It’s the who, what, when, where, why, and sometimes how. It’s what you need to nail when you send your manuscript into a literary agent or publishing house. It’s also that opening hook that will grab your reader’s attention and keep them focused on your book.
Chuck Wendig shared his top 25 tips to make sure you have a kick-ass exposition. *Side note: his blog/website is hilarious – and somewhat offensive – and worth a browse.* He primarily points out that the exposition needs to be short and shown – not told. Basically, you want to avoid info dumps. So those long monologues between two characters or the paragraphs that go on and on for pages.
You want to keep your readers on a need-to-know basis and slowly, succinctly reveal information throughout the story. As Wendig puts it, your villain doesn’t want to give up his evil plot until he no longer can keep it to himself.
On top of all this, Wendig suggests that the exposition of your story is much like your thesis statement. It’s what you’re going to prove to your reader as they work their way through your narrative. Finally, your exposition can also be used as a way to break up the tension as you move through the rising action and towards the climax of the story.
Rising Action: is a series of relevant incidents that create suspense, interest, and tension in a narrative. This includes all decisions, character flaws, and background circumstances that together create turns and twists leading to a climax.
This is where things start getting complicated. You’ve just established the basic things that your reader needs to know and now add the interesting bits that move your story forward. This is where your character starts making decisions – good and bad – as they work towards achieving their goals.
As our characters embark on their journey, the stakes have to keep building. In Game of Thrones, for example, it’s all about what the characters are doing to get to sit on the throne. Dany is trying to make a better world for all those who are oppressed, and the only way that she sees this happening is if she gets back home and takes over Westeros.
As she embarks on her quest, the stakes keep rising, and she faces bigger challenges and more formidable foes. George R. R. Martin uses suspense to keep his reader engaged as we doubt if she’s going to be able to beat Cersei or the Iron Fleet. The tension of her narrative keeps building until she faces off with Cersei for the last time in the climax of her story.
Climax: is the particular point in a narrative when the conflict or tension hits its highest point. It is also referred to as the crisis point. It is the turning point in a story where the rising action turns into the falling action.
- The run-up to the climactic moment. In other words, the last-minute maneuvering to put the pieces in their final positions.
- The main character’s moment of truth. The make or break moment that defines their path – it’s the big decision they have to make before achieving all of their goals.
- The climactic moment itself. This is where the hero directly affects the outcome of the story.
- The immediate results of the climactic moment. The villain might be vanquished, but the roof is still collapsing and actions still need to be taken.
As the experts at Writer’s Digest put it, the climax is in and of itself, its own story. It has a beginning, middle, and end. Let’s take another example from Game of Thrones here, but this time we’ll go back to the Battle of Bastards. The day before the battle, Sansa, Jon, and associates meet with Ramsay Bolton to discuss the possibility of a peaceful resolution to the conflicts between the two houses, allowing the Stark family to reclaim Winterfell as their home.
As we all know, Bolton sucks and says no way. Both parties return to their respective corners and prepare for battle. Battle plans are drawn to help defeat Bolton, and a fight takes place between Sansa and Jon over how he’s an idiot for not using her knowledge of Bolton in the plan of attack.
This scene finishes the exposition of the climax – all the players are in place, we know what’s going on and know Jon is most likely going to screw up for not heeding his sister’s advice. The scene also provides us with the true motivations of both Stark siblings – their love for home and family as well as their desire for freedom from Bolton’s tyranny. It reaffirms to the audience that the Stark family is in it for each other as much as the battle for their home.
The next day arrives, and so does the climax for this part of the story. The war takes place, and the suspense is ramped up as Bolton plays his mind games on Jon – forcing him to deviate from his carefully laid out battle plan. Of course, the battle goes horribly for Jon and his army as Bolton’s forces close in on them. Death and defeat are almost inevitable at this point for our hero.
But alas, Sansa and the Knights of Vale arrive in time to save Jon’s worthless hide (another rant for another day) and defeat Bolton’s army. However, the battle doesn’t end there. Bolton escapes, and our heroes push forth to capture and put an end to him. At this point in the battle, the climax is officially over with, and we’re moving into the falling action.
As Writer’s Digest points out, we shouldn’t just end the climax here. Instead, we draw it out a bit further. Jon still needs to eliminate Bolton as a threat, so he storms Winterfell and beats our villain to a pulp. The extra battle wraps up the episode and threat Bolton presents, extending our climax – we still don’t know if Bolton will get away without a scratch – and transitioning us into the falling action/resolution of the episode.
Falling Action: wraps up the narrative, resolves its loose ends, and leads toward the closure.
This is where your characters can put their feet up, reflect on their triumphs, losses, and future while relaxing with a mint julep. Your character’s get to make peace during this time with what happened in the climax.
After the Battle of the Bastards, Sansa goes down to visit Bolton in the dungeons and say her piece to him, reclaiming her power and closing that chapter of her life. She gets the last word and knows that justice has been served on her behalf, if not at her own hand.
Resolution: is the unfolding or solution of a complicated issue in a story.
The resolution is our final goodbye to our characters and the story. If there are any unanswered questions – like who killed Mr. Boddy in the board game Clue. This is going to come at the very end of the character’s musings in the falling action part of the plot. It is our character’s chance to sail into the sunset, live happily ever after or walk away from the trauma of their past.
Of course, this going to look slightly different if it’s part of a book series. In this instance, the ending will have more of a character resolve to make it through the next installment of the series. A lot of authors will end the book with some sort of character conviction. Like, “we will defeat the Night King” or “we won’t let ____ get away with this.”
That’s it for me today!
I’ve decided to not tell you what plot topic we’ll be diving into next week as I may switch the order around or add new topics in. We will be talking about plot for the next few weeks as I decided to split the posts up instead of bombarding you with one giant post.
Until next time!