A plot diagram is a graphical representation of the plot of the story. A story plot diagram is a line graph of the story's events, beginning with the story’s start on the left and continuing toward the right, ending with the story’s conclusion.
Whether writing creatively or analyzing another author’s writing, you can study the plot structure and storyline using a plot diagram.
The plot of a story is the unfolding sequence of events. Just about every story has the same parts of the plot. The six parts of a story are:
These six elements break down into three chronological segments. Each segment of the story usually has two elements.
Exposition in a plot introduces the story’s setting, mood, the main character, supporting characters, and time. Character development happens during this part of the story.
Conflict is the problem, crisis, challenge, dilemma, or obstacle presented to the main character.
The rising action is a sequence of solutions to the conflict that the main character tries; it is all the events leading to the turning point of the story. It can be identified by increasing tension, emotion, difficulty, or challenge.
The climax of the story is the peak of excitement, the moment when the story changes (a turning point), the main character, and the problem is resolved.
The Falling action is all the plot points wrapping up, the consequences of the climax, and reflection on the changes in the main character. It can be identified by decreasing tension, an approaching resolution, and relaxation of emotion.
The resolution is the plot’s end, whether that resolution is a happy ending or sad ending, fun or frightening, satisfying or unsatisfying. The resolution might tie up loose ends or leave important elements of the story unresolved.
We can take the simplest of tales, such as Little Miss Muffet, to practice constructing a plot diagram. Here is the original nursery rhyme:
Little Miss Muffet Sat on a tuffet, Eating her curds and whey; Along came a spider Who sat down beside her And frightened Miss Muffet away.
What is the story’s beginning? Who is the main character? What is the setting? At the story’s beginning, we are introduced to Miss Muffet, who is sitting on a tuffet (a hassock), eating cottage cheese.
In the rising action, what conflict does our main character face? She must deal with the arrival of a spider.
The climax of the story is how our main character solves her problem. Miss Muffet’s solution to her conflict is to run away. The conclusion of the story is abrupt; Miss Muffet left.
Little Miss Muffet is, admittedly, not a complicated or very interesting story.
With this short story, we see that our graph looks like a triangle. The story plot makes a pyramid shape with an even amount of story on either side of the climax.
For pieces more complicated than a simple nursery rhyme, the story’s divisions may not be equal. The rising action may consume much of the story, moving very slowly toward a climax in the story’s middle. The middle part may take up more of the total story; the ending may be very brief. This means the plot diagram is no longer symmetrical.
From Shakespeare to Sci-Fi, just about every work of fiction can be worked out on a plot diagram. Using a plot diagram helps you sort out and identify the plot’s elements, whether you are studying an existing work or writing your own creative fiction.
A plot diagram provides the bare bones of a story. The author’s skill and artistry are in adding depth, detail, supporting characters, and many events up to and after the climax to hold the reader’s attention.
After working your way through this lesson and video, you have learned:
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