Plot is what happens in a story. Plot consists of a series of related episodes, one growing out of another. Most plots have four parts, which are like building block


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Plot: A Story’s Building Blocks

by John Leggett

Plot is what happens in a story. Plot consists of a series of related episodes, one growing out of another. Most plots have four parts, which are like building blocks.

1.   The first part of a plot tells you about the story′s basic situation: Who are the characters, and what do they want? This is usually where you find out about the conflict, or problem, in a story. A conflict is a struggle between opposing characters or opposing forces. In an external conflict a character struggles against another person, a group of people, or a force of nature (a tornado, a bear, an icy mountain path). An internal conflict takes place in a character′s mind (he struggles with shyness; she struggles to accept a death). Here is the introduction to a new version of a tale you know well:

“Hi there, Red,” said a wolf to a little girl in a red velvet hood. “How’d ya like a ride on my motorcycle?”

“Thank you, sir, but I can’t,” replied Little Red Riding Hood. “As you can see, I’m carrying this basket of ginger cookies to my grandmother, and I can’t be late.”

“Tell you what, Red. You just hop on the back, and I’ll run you over to Granny’s in five seconds flat.”

“My grandmother lives way out at the end of Lonely Road,” Red protested. “It’s miles and miles.”

“This here motorcycle eats miles.”

“No, thank you,” said Little Red Riding Hood. “I’ve made up my mind.”

To make us feel suspense, storytellers give us clues that foreshadow, or hint at, future events. Maybe you felt a shiver of fear when you read that Granny lives on Lonely Road. Bad things can happen on lonely roads. Could this foreshadow trouble for Little Red?

2.   In the second part of a plot, one or more of the characters act to resolve the conflict. Now a series of events takes place that makes it very hard for the character to get what he or she wants. (Sometimes these events are called complications.)

“Suit yourself,” chuckled the wolf, who had thought of a wicked plan. He would go alone to the end of Lonely Road, gobble up Red’s grandma, and then, when the little girl turned up, he would gobble her up too.

So, arriving at the last house on Lonely Road, the wolf raced his engine, scaring Grandma out her back door and under the woodshed. The wolf was puzzled to find the house empty, but he put on Grandma’s nightcap and nightshirt and climbed into the bed to wait for Red.

3.   Now comes the climax, the story’s most emotional or suspenseful moment. This is the point at which the conflict is decided one way or another.

It was nearly dark when Red arrived, but as she approached her grandma’s bed, she sensed something was wrong.

“Are you all right, Granny?” Red asked. “Your eyes look bloodshot.”

“All the better to see you with,” replied the wolf.

“And your teeth—suddenly they look like fangs.”

“All the better to eat—” the wolf began, but he stopped at the sound of his motorcycle engine thundering in the front yard. “Wait right there, Red,” said the wolf, bounding from the bed.

The wolf was startled to find Grandma sitting on the motorcycle.

“Hey!” he shouted. “Stop fooling with my bike.” As he lunged for her, Grandma found the gearshift, and the cycle leapt forward, scooping the wolf up on its handlebars and hurling him into a giant thorn bush—which is where the police found him when they arrived.

4.   The resolution is the last part of the story. This is where the loose ends of the plot are tied up and the story is closed.

The wolf was brought to trial and sent to prison. Granny became a popular guest on talk shows. Red lived happily ever after.


The main events of a story’s plot can be charted in a diagram like the one below. Think about a story you know well—maybe a movie or a TV show or a novel. See if you can show the story’s main events in a similar diagram.



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