Updated: May 18, 2021
Who said a writer’s job is easy-peasy? Well, it’s far from being a stress-free task, especially if we want to entertain our readers in the best way possible. To craft engaging stories, writers must dive into a variety of techniques to make this process effective and useful.
Before we learn about the plot structure formula, we must understand what plot is.
The plot is an interrelated sequence of events that leads to the story’s final purpose, e.i. what the characters are seeking.
However, talking about plot isn’t the same as talking about story. While a story tells what happens next in a mechanical way, a plot explains the connection between two or more events. Let’s take a look at the differences in the compound of events.
X happens, then Y happens.
X happens, then Y happens because of X. Therefore, C happens.
1. Gunshots were heard. The police came. See how the story is barren from emotion and essential details.
2. We heard gunshots in the neighborhood. Therefore, the police came because criminals started shooting at our neighbor’s house. Here, the plot development shows the essence of what the readers are experiencing through the “story” more intimately. The effects it leaves on the characters, and consequently, the readers.
The structure most used throughout history was Aristotle’s structure. In this type, a plot is divided into three parts, known as the 3 Act Structure.
Act I: In this part, characters are introduced along with their relationships, desires, dreams, and obstacles. This is also where the setting is established and the inciting incident occurs.
Act II: Here, the rising action takes place, leading the readers to the climax, and the falling action brings us to the conclusion.
Act III: Finally, the plot’s resolution is exposed, wrapping everything up.
Finally, the Plot Structure Formula
Horace came up with a more dynamic structure divided into five acts.
American novelist and professor, Alice Adams, explains the 5 Act Structure, where the plot follows this formula:
A, B, D, C, E
1. Action: Setting and characters are introduced through a specific event that draws the reader into the story. It isn’t only an exposition but is the promise of a great story. Starting the story with a compelling action—it doesn’t have to be a violent one, but where the character is doing something that will hook readers—is the best way to set a story’s gears on, rather than beginning with a reminisce, a dream, the main character waking up or even looking at a mirror. Always choose the more dynamic way over the passive one.
2. Background: Here, we present the vital information about the character, what brought him to where he/she is, and what motivates him/her to be and act in a certain way. It provides the context to understand the characters’ current situation and the building of conflicts. This is why the characters’ background must be emotionally strong because emotions impulses people to act.
3. Development: We reach the point where the character has to face obstacle after obstacle to achieve his/her goals. This is the sequence of events that will show the reader the "why"s and "how"s, the rising actions which will lead to the climax. However, I must state there are contradicting opinions on this part of a plot. Some writers say the development encompasses the events toward the peak, while others are sure it refers to the events that follow the climax. For me, development takes more than 50% of the story. It’s all about rising and falling actions, some of the resolution, the character’s decision after the initial or inciting event, and the whole process the character goes through to reach his/her aim.
· To understand how the rising action can make a story more exciting engaging, create obstacles every time the character has overcome one, and let the next obstacle be larger.
4. Climax: Everyone agrees climax is the major conflict and the peak of a story. It is also the twist that challenges the character’s full potential, leading him/her to the final struggle.
5. Ending: This is the last act, obviously, where we see the character as someone else thanks to the journey he/she had to travel. After the final struggle, the characters might return to their everyday lives, but there’s always a reflection, except if they haven’t reached their goals. Then, their lives would be utterly different from what they used to be.
Good stories are like circles or spirals that lead us to the same starting point; however, we’ll see the character transformed, and we’ll meet a solution or a question.
Whatever decision we make and whichever structure we choose, we must keep in mind that action will always be the best option to kick off our stories, while drama will build tension. Gathering these elements in a harmonious waltz will lead our stories to the desired ending.
The plot structure is easy. Just remember your ABCs and 1, 2, 3s.
*Special thanks to Christa Wojciechowski for editing this article.
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