Story, Identity, Unity: Have I Got a Story for You

Spiraling out of Control

Two people talking on a couch.

Elements of Fiction: Plot

Think back to the story that Laura told Tamara about Zac Ephron or the stories you tell your friends every day. Do the stories build to a climax like a novel or a movie? Is there more than one story going on in the story as a whole?

Not all plots are created equal. Some plots build to a climax; some plots have more than one thread. Some multi-threaded plots run together in places, and some are just one single plot thread. Below are four basic plot structures used in fiction. Scroll over them to read their descriptions.






Text Version

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Think of at least two stories or movies that use each of the plot structures above.

Dr. Seuss's "Oh the Places You Will Go" and Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are" are linear plots. They never get more or less exciting in the course of the story. Pyramid plot structure is seen in "The Cask of Amontillado" and Twilight since those stories follow only one thread of development. Spiral plot structure is used for Pulp Fiction and Turtle Moon by Alice Hoffman. In these stories three of different stories are told and the characters pass from story to story until the threads finally converge at the climax. Parallel plot is used in a novel called The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw and James Salter that tells 3 soldiers' experiences of the same battle in WWI, but they never meet, and their stories do not converge.


Guiding Questions for Analyzing Plot:

  1. What is revealed in the exposition? How does the story start?
  2. What are the main complications?
  3. How are the complications connected?
  4. What is the climax?
  5. How much of the conflict is resolved?
  6. What is revealed in the falling action and denouement?
  7. How many plot threads are there?
  8. How do they converge? Or run parallel?
  9. How does the story end?

Click below to review the parts of the plot in Freytag’s pyramid.

Freytag’s Pyramid

Freytag’s Pyramid