The Plot Diagram: The Backbone of a Story

plot diagram

By Bryan Reynolds-

It’s easy to tell a story. You could describe your day at school or your trip to the grocery store by simply recounting the events in chronological order. But it can be tough to write a story, since you’re having to make up the events yourself. So how do you create an interesting and compelling story that makes sense and flows well?

One useful, fundamental tool in your writer’s toolkit should be the plot diagram. Like the backbone in your body, the plot diagram forms a skeleton around which the story will be built. It helps keep you organized, and stories told using the basic plot diagram format will be more easily understood and digested by your readers. A story can’t be a story without a beginning, middle, and an end; the plot diagram gives you exactly that.

Begin by drawing an actual diagram. The different parts of the diagram represent the different parts of your story, punctuated by key events.

plot diagram

Generally, there are six simple parts of the diagram.

1. The first part is the exposition, where you establish characters and setting. This information is vital to understanding the story and provides valuable context for the reader. Who, what, where, and when.

2. Next comes the inciting incident. This is the moment where significant conflict is introduced. What is your story about? Why do the characters go on their quest or journey? What action begins moving the story forward?

3. The rising action represents the main part of the story. What conflicts or struggles do your characters face? How do they get where they’re going? What obstacles divert or distract them on the way? This section of the diagram is represented by a slope because the events are mounting: challenges increase in number, grow more difficult, and the stakes raise.

4. The climax of the story takes place here. This is the pivotal moment, the greatest challenge. Generally, the conflict introduced with the inciting incident is addressed here. The stakes are never higher than here, the payoff never as great.

5. The falling action takes place here. This is where the conflict is resolved: the antagonist defeated, the day saved, the journey completed. The hectic calamity is ended, and the lessons are learned.

6. The story, however, is not over until the resolution, found here. If the introduction represents normalcy, interrupted by the inciting incident and the following story, then the resolution is a return to normalcy. The hero goes home, the loose threads are tied off. This is the proper ending, where the reader’s last questions are answered.

Even for seasoned writers, using a plot diagram is a great way to ensure a story’s strength. You can always expand and make the story more complex, but if the key elements found on the diagram aren’t there, you don’t really have a story. Having a diagram helps you keep these factors in mind as you work. It helps you make sure your story is always working toward the proper resolution.

Writing Exercise

Pick three of your favorite stories. They can be books, movies, or even videogames. Write out plot diagrams for each of them, identifying the six major elements of the story. Notice how even the biggest, most complex stories can be boiled down to simple roots when you think in terms of the beginning, the middle, and the end.

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Brian Reynolds is a self-published author from the American midwest living in Topeka, Kansas. His first book, The Six Year War, details the life of child soldiers across the globe. You can learn more about Brian HERE and at www.brianreynoldswriting.com.