The process of crafting compelling stories, be it for a television series, film, or novel, invariably begins with the creation of a draft. Within this draft, pivotal story developments take shape. While you may already possess a clear setting, well-defined characters, and a plethora of intriguing ideas, their true potential is realized when they are meticulously organized and seamlessly woven together within the narrative structure. This organizational prowess is the bedrock upon which engaging and coherent stories are built.
While developing the story, there might be times when you lose focus. If this happens, it pays to do some planning first. Using a plot diagram keeps you on track as you tell your story. The diagram looks like a map that serves as your guide through the creative process.
Read this article to learn more about this framework and how to use it to develop your plot.
What is a plot diagram?
In its simplest form, the plot diagram is a way to track the significant events in your story. The template resembles a linear graphic illustration of the story’s narrative, demonstrating the essential elements from beginning to end. Some call this diagram the plot mountain since it forms like a triangle, a straightforward visual representation that allows your team or audience to quickly remember the events unfolding in a story. As you create the plot diagram, you must remember three segments: beginning, middle, and end. Generally, the plot diagram has two primary purposes. First is to keep the writer focused while writing the plot, and second is to ensure it’s the type of story people want to see or read.
What are the six elements of a plot diagram?
The plot mountain concept draws inspiration from Gustav Freytag’s Pyramid, devised by the renowned German playwright Gustav Freytag. This model visualizes plots as a series of interconnected steps, portrayed as an ascending line that culminates at its zenith before gradually descending. It serves as a fundamental framework for understanding the trajectory and dynamics of storytelling, guiding the development of narratives from inception to resolution.
The list below shows the different elements of a plot diagram.
This is where you introduce the setting and characters of the story. You’re providing your audience with the information they need to understand the story’s conflict as it progresses.
Some writers use the term ‘inciting incident’ instead of conflict. Regardless, the meaning is still the same. Your story must have an event that will make the conflict inevitable. This can be a scenario where the characters realize they can’t both reach their goals.
In most cases, the rising action is the longest part of your plot. During this phase, the events raise stakes and complicate the characters’ will to reach their goals. However, not all scenarios in the rising action directly relate to the primary conflict. Writers can also use this phase to show character development, create and resolve the subplots, assess the story’s themes, or provide a foreshadowing of future events.
You’ll always hear this word, even from audiences. This is the phase in the plot where the tension is at its highest. During the climax, the writer must resolve the conflict. It does not necessarily have to favor the story’s protagonist. As the plot passes through the climax, remember that the story cannot return to how things were. The character arcs, thematic questions, and subplots can be resolved together with the central conflict.
The things that happened to the characters after the climax must be included in the falling action section. When you watch a film or read a novel, everything does not stop after the conflict is resolved. Characters must find their way to a new status quo. Remember that it must provide your audience with a sense of closure. The length of the falling action depends on the story being told. However, the scenarios are relatively shorter than those in the rising action section.
Writers generally tie up loose ends in the resolution phase. Also, you must have the story in a place where audiences are comfortable leaving it. Creating an excellent resolution is crucial and significant at the same time since it is what the audience will remember after knowing the complete story.
Benefits of using a plot diagram
The apparent advantage of using the plot diagram is that it helps writers understand the story’s various parts and how the scenarios are connected. The framework makes it easier to follow the story’s progression and appreciate the writer’s message. More of the benefits you’ll get from a plot diagram are stated below.
- Highlights the critical elements of a story. As you know, there are six elements of a story. Using the diagram lets you emphasize these elements, including the climax and resolution. This helps you plot the significant parts of the story.
- Helps in analyzing literature. Since you can focus on the essential elements of the story, it contributes to how the audience perceives the story’s overall meaning and message.
- Helpful in writing. Writers use the plot diagram to provide structure in organizing the story. Furthermore, it helps them stay on track with their plot. Since the chart uses a framework, writers can see the sections where the story might need more development or identify whether the pacing is too slow or too fast.
- It’s also a helpful teaching tool. Educators can use the plot mountain to help learners understand the structure of the story, improve writing skills, and analyze various literature pieces.
Example of a plot diagram
Here is a simple plot diagram of The Tortoise and the Hare. While the example below might be plain text, you can structure your template using templates online. Boardmix provides fun and functional pre-built templates that you can use. They’re all customizable, so you can add shapes, colors, images, and stickers.
Your plot diagram must contain the following details.
- On a fine day at the race course, the hare made fun of the tortoise for being slow.
- Social conflict
- Rising action. The hare was amused by participating in a running race with the tortoise, but he found it fun, so he still agreed.
- The hare had a considerable lead over the tortoise. In an attempt to emphasize the absurdity of racing against a hare, he decided to lie down beside the racetrack and enjoy a nap.
- Falling action. The tortoise kept going slowly and steadily until he passed where the hare was sleeping. The hare was sleeping very peacefully.
- The tortoise had almost reached the finish line by the time the hare awoke. The hare sprinted at top speed to catch up but couldn’t surpass the tortoise in time.
For more tips and examples of the plot mountain, you can explore the 7 Basic Plot Diagram Examples for Beginners article in the Resources tab of the Boardmix website.
How to use a plot diagram?
Developing a plot mountain varies. There’s no single and definite process on how to do it. However, it’s necessary to brainstorm your ideas before putting them into the diagram. Here are other significant steps you must do to use the chart efficiently.
- Decide on the story idea. Developing an idea is the fun part of the process. Let your imagination be free and run wild until you associate a few concepts together in an exciting and new way. You’ll also decide whether to write a short story, screenplay, novel, or something in between. Most importantly, remember that it’s okay for your story to change while writing.
- Start drawing the diagram. Use the six elements of a plot mountain mentioned in this article. Draw a horizontal line and connect its end to the following line, which angles upward until the line reaches the peak. Add another line sloping down with a steeper angle and an additional horizontal line. It must look like a pyramid or a triangle.
- Label your diagram. Remember that the plot mountain has three significant acts besides the six elements. Act 1, which also means the beginning of the story, must contain the exposition and inciting incident or conflict. The middle, or Act 2, has the rising action and climax. Meanwhile, Act 3, or the end, contains the falling action and resolution. Technically, you divide the six elements into three acts. Ensure to leave enough space for each component to accommodate notes and labels.
- Input the story of the events. Take the parts of the story from the original idea and plot them along the arc. Don’t be intimidated if there are some holes in your concept, as the diagram will help you reach the complete idea as you go along. You might find some significant plot points along the curve, which can provide insights into how they might connect together.
- Fill in the gaps. Your plot must be consistent, no matter how simple it is. The story should also make sense to your audience. Identify the possible loopholes in your story arc and fill in those holes until you find consistency. You can move on to the next phase if you can tell your story from beginning to end with just the so and but conjunctions.
- Supply other details. The story’s setting, protagonists, antagonists, conflict, subplots, and themes are vital information you must include in your plot mountain. Remember to use words and phrases; once you see that details are slowly filling up the framework, it’s time to write the story.
FAQs about a plot diagram
What are the different types of plot diagrams?
The plot diagram is a vast category as it involves five variations. Look closely at each of them below.
- Three-act structure. This basic plot diagram structure illustrates three smaller peaks representing the conflict, rising action, and the climax. You won’t see the triangular plot diagram here.
- Five-act structure. This is still developed by Freytag, which was eventually popularized by the editors of the plays by Shakespeare. Writers in television then adopted the structure of writing long-hour shows with about four commercial breaks. Using this structure, your plot must contain the introduction, the rising movement, its climax, the falling action, and the catastrophe.
- The Hero’s Journey. Unlike the previous types of plot diagrams, the Hero’s Journey shows a circular path, taking the protagonist from an unknown world through the strange world and right back to the known. The elements of this framework include the call to adventure, the threshold, the road of trials, and the return.
- Fichtean Curve. This structure looks like a fish’s fin. You start with a conflict or inciting incident and add an ascending series of conflicts until it reaches the climax. This diagram is helpful when making fast-paced stories like espionage thrillers or murder mysteries.
- Non-linear plots. The slice-of-life theme fits this diagram. In most cases, this story genre has minor conflicts. Graphing it on a plot diagram might be challenging, but it can always be done.
What’s the difference between a plot and a story?
A story constitutes the fundamental chronology of events within any narrative, serving as its backbone. Without this narrative timeline, the very essence of a novel or film would cease to exist. Conversely, the plot assumes the role of the narrative architect, elucidating the underlying logic behind the interconnected events. It not only provides the “why” but also deciphers the overarching message conveyed by the timeline, offering a deeper layer of narrative comprehension.
In E.M. Forster’s book titled “Aspects of the Novel,” he provides a classic example of how these two differ: “The king died and the queen died” depicts a story. “The king died, and then the queen died of grief” presents a plot.
The plot provides the nifty tricks, reassuring the audience that there’s a sense to the storytelling. It sets up the cause and effect, giving a sense of rightness in the story’s conclusion.