Plot is a causal sequence of events

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If an author writes, "The king died and then the queen died," there is no plot for a story. But by writing, "The king died and then the queen died of grief," the writer has provided a plot line for a story.

A plot is a causal sequence of events, the "why" for the things that happen in the story. The plot draws the reader into the character's lives and helps the reader understand the choices that the characters make.

A plot's structure is the way in which the story elements are arranged. Writers vary structure depending on the needs of the story. For example, in a mystery, the author will withhold plot exposition until later in the story. In William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" it is only at the end of the story that we learn what Miss Emily has been up to all those years while locked away in her Southern mansion.

Plot not always a straight line from the beginning to the end of a short story. In Ernest Hemingway's story "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber," the action shifts from past to present. This shifting of time is the way we learn what happened and why, and it keeps us interested in the story. But good stories always have all the plot elements in them.

In the a traditional plot structure there are usually 5 elements of plot:

  • Exposition/Introduction:

    • the start of the story

    • the situation before the action starts

    • the information needed to understand a story

    • normally indicates where and when the story takes place

    • introduces the character(s)
    • may not always appear at the beginning of the story (can be a flashback, for example).

  • Rising Action:

    • an inciting incident or force is usually established between characters

    • this results in a series of conflicts and crises in the story that lead to the climax

    • develops characters, conflicts, and other key elements

    • creates interest in the story

  • Climax:

    • the turning point

    • the most intense moment - either mentally or in action

    • the highest point of interest

    • the reader wonders what will happen next – will the conflict be resolved or not?

  • Falling Action/Denouement:

    • the action which follows the climax

    • this is usually quick moving and makes up a small part of the overall story

    • the falling action leads to the resolution

  • Resolution/Conclusion:

    • the conclusion, the tying together of all of the threads

    • the final outcome or untangling of events in the story so that the reader leaves the story satisfied

Activity 1 - Cinderella: Use the familiar story summary of Cinderella below. Label whether the events are part of the exposition/introduction (2 items), rising action (5 items), climax (1 item), falling action/denouement (1 item), or resolution/conclusion (1 item).

_______________An invitation to the ball arrives at the palace.

_______________Cinderella and the prince marry.

_______________The stepsisters try to force their feet into the glass slipper; but, it fits Cinderella.

_______________Cinderella goes to the ball and dances with the prince.

_______________A fairy godmother appears and provides Cinderella with clothes, coach, and


_______________They live happily ever after.

_______________Cinderella lives unhappily with her stepsisters and their mother.

_______________The stepsisters prepare for and go to the ball.

_______________The prince says he will marry the woman whom the slipper fits.

_______________Cinderella leaves hurriedly at midnight and loses a slipper.

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