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Plot refers to a series of events that take place in a novel, usually adhering to some kind of structure. Along with unruly characters, disorganized, confusing, crazy, boring, surprising, illogical, incomprehensible plots remain one of the chief frustrations for Wrimos during NaNoWriMo.

Plot Structure

Dramatic structure

According to German playwrite Gustav Freytag, a drama (one of the three Ancient Greek forms of writing, the other two being 'poetry' and 'prose'; not the genre 'drama') is divided into five parts, or acts, which some refer to as a dramatic arc: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and dénouement.

Exposition (dramatic structure)

The exposition provides the background information needed to properly understand the story, such as the protagonist, the antagonist, the basic conflict, and the setting. It ends with the inciting moment, which is the incident without which there would be no story. The inciting moment sets the remainder of the story in motion beginning with the second act, the rising action. While the exposition may employ the rhetorical mode also known as exposition, the two are not perfectly synonymous.

Rising Action

During rising action, the basic internal conflict is complicated by the introduction of related secondary conflicts, including various obstacles that frustrate the protagonist's attempt to reach his goal. Secondary conflicts can include adversaries of lesser importance than the story’s antagonist, who may work with the antagonist or separately, by and for themselves or actions unknown.


The third act is that of the climax, or turning point, which marks a change, for the better or the worse, in the protagonist’s affairs. If the story is a comedy, things will have gone badly for the protagonist up to this point; now, the tide, so to speak, will turn, and things will begin to go well for him or her. If the story is a tragedy, the opposite state of affairs will ensue, with things going from good to bad for the protagonist.

Falling action

During the falling action, or resolution, which is the moment of reversal after the climax, the conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist unravels, with the protagonist winning or losing against the antagonist. The falling action might contain a moment of final suspense, during which the final outcome of the conflict is in doubt.


The dénouement (pronounced /deɪ.nuːˈmɑ̃, deɪ.nuːˈmɒːn/) comprises events between the falling action and the actual end of the drama or narrative and thus serves as the conclusion of the story. Conflicts are resolved, creating normality for the characters and a sense of catharsis, or release of tension and anxiety, for the reader. Etymologically, the French word dénouement is derived from the Old French word denoer, "to untie", and from nodus, Latin for "knot." Simply put, dénouement is the unraveling or untying of the complexities of a plot.

The comedy ends with a dénouement (a conclusion) in which the protagonist is better off than at the story's outset. The tragedy ends with a catastrophe in which the protagonist is worse off than at the beginning of the narrative. Exemplary of a comic dénouement is the final scene of Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It, in which couples marry, an evildoer repents, two disguised characters are revealed for all to see, and a ruler is restored to power. In Shakespeare's tragedies, the dénouement is usually the death of one or more characters.


Conflict is a necessary element of fictional literature. It is defined as the problem in any piece of literature and is often classified according to the nature of the protagonist or antagonist. Conflict can be internal (a mental or emotional struggle that occurs within a character) or external (occurs between a character and outside forces: another character or the environment).

Even in contemporary, non-dramatic literature, critics have observed that the agon is the central unit of the plot. The easier it is for the protagonist to triumph, the less value there is in the drama. In internal and external conflict alike, the antagonist must act upon the protagonist and must seem at first to overmatch him or her. For example, in William Faulkner's The Bear, nature might be the antagonist. Even though it is an abstraction, natural creatures and the scenery oppose and resist the protagonist. In the same story, the young boy's doubts about himself provide an internal conflict, and they seem to overwhelm him.

Similarly, when godlike characters enter (e.g. Superman), correspondingly great villains have to be created, or natural weaknesses have to be invented, to allow the narrative to have drama. Alternatively, scenarios could be devised in which the character's godlike powers are constrained by some sort of code, or their respective antagonist.

Exposition (literary technique)

This kind of exposition, when it gets too wordy, is also known as an info dump, plot dump or an idiot lecture if expressed in dialogue or monologue.

Exposition is the fiction-writing mode for conveying information. According to Robert Kernen, "Exposition can be one of the most effective ways of creating and increasing the drama in your story. It can also be the quickest way to kill a plot's momentum and get your story bogged down in detail. Too much exposition, or too much at one time, can seriously derail a story and be frustrating to the reader or viewer eager for a story to either get moving or move on."

Exposition in fiction may be delivered through various means. As noted by Dibell, the simplest way is to just place the information between scenes as the all-seeing, all-knowing (but impersonal and invisible) narrator. Morrell has observed that various devices, such as trial transcriptions, newspaper clippings, letters, and diaries may be used to convey information. Another means of delivering information is through a character, either as dialogue or through the character's thoughts.

In serial television drama, exposition in individual episodes often appears as a brief montage of scenes from earlier episodes, prefaced with the phrase "Previously on [series]." Villain speech is a specific form of exposition in which the villain describes his sinister plans to a helpless hero, often prefacing his exposition with the comment that it can't hurt to divulge the plan, since the hero will be dead soon anyway (or the plan will be impossible to stop in the short time available). This is commonly seen in James Bond books and films.

Plot device

Plot devices are also known as MacGuffins when their nature is not actually important to the story and another object would work just as well. Alfred Hitchcock said that "in a thriller the MacGuffin is usually 'the necklace'; in a spy story it is 'the papers'". Plot devices can also be known as deus ex machina, when it is used to resolve all problematic situations and bring the story to a (generally happy) conclusion, such as the sudden arrival of Heracles in Euripides' play Aclestis.

A plot device is an object or character in a story whose sole purpose is to advance the plot of the story, or alternatively to overcome some difficulty in the plot. A contrived or arbitrary plot device may annoy or confuse the reader, causing a loss of the suspension of disbelief. However a well-crafted plot device, or one that emerges naturally from the setting or characters of the story, may be entirely accepted, or may even be unnoticed by the audience.

Many stories, especially in the fantasy genre, feature an object or objects with some great power. Often what drives the plot is the hero's need to find the object before the villain and use it for good rather than evil, or, if the object itself is evil, to destroy it. Examples of this kind of plot device include Indiana Jones' "The Ark of the Covenant", "the Holy Grail" and "the Crystal Skull", Lord of the Rings' "One Ring", and Harry Potter's "Deathly Hallows" and "Horcruxes".


A subplot is a secondary plot strand that is a supporting side story for any story or the main plot. Subplots may connect to main plots, in either time and place or in thematic significance. Subplots often involve supporting characters, those besides the protagonist or antagonist. In screenwriting, a subplot is referred to as a "B story" or a "C story," etc.

The television show Castle almost always has a subplot or "B story", which generally involves the protagonist Rick Castle's daughter and/or mother. The "B story" always mirrors the main plot in a more mundane way; Castle generally solves the crime because of an epiphany given him by the "B plot".

Plot Help

There are many ways to get help with plots on the NaNoWriMo websites, including a Plot Machine on the ScriptFrenzy website.


There is sometimes debate amongst Wrimos about the definitions of the words story, plot, and premise. Many writers use the word plot to mean the idea for a story, a usage reinforced by the annual '"Adopt A Plot" thread on the NaNoWriMo forums, where writers give up old or unused novel ideas for adoption. More properly, however, these are story/premise ideas. A plot, on the other hand, is comprised of the events that will help to tell and shape this story. It is the way in which the story is told.

The Plot Doctoring forum

The Plot Doctoring forum on the NaNoWriMo forums offers Wrimos a place to "unload...thorny plot problems" and have a "team of literary technicians get novels back on the right foot." The forum is also home to the ever-popular dare threads, and the former home to Adoptables.

Do I have to have a plot to do NaNo?

Nope. In fact, Chris Baty's No Plot? No Problem! is centered around this principle: choosing an idea, researching it in a very short period, and writing it on a NaNo-like deadline. Many Wrimos come into NaNo with only a vague idea at the last minute, writing their way through the month with only vague ideas to carry them through the month, and they still win. While many Wrimos have a well-planned plot before NaNo begins, others do not. Don't panic if you don't have a plot yet, especially if NaNo is still weeks away.