When the word plot pops up, it has a number of different meanings, even within writing. It could mean a plot type, the plot structure, or the story plot. Then, within that there are a number of aspects that are part of a plot. Such as plot points, archetypes, characters, events, and more.
Plot encompasses everything from the story as a whole, to the basic backbone of the story. The plot is what makes a story, with or without the extra details.
A plot type is a categorization of the story plot. Examples are tragedy, the heroic journey, and rags to riches. These each have a designated trajectory that the plot more or less has to follow. Another categorization similar to this is genre, where each genre has certain expectations like the couple getting together, despite everything, in a romance.
Each plot type has designated plot points and an ending to qualify for the plot type. The heroic journey always needs a call and a discovery for the character. A tragedy, of course, needs to end in complete failure. While the rags to riches plot has the self-explanatory journey of a character going from a poor state, to a rich one.
Seven different plot types are explained in Margaret Attwood’s Masterclass overview, here. She lists different plot types, gives a brief explanation, and an example of a book or story for each plot type. The seven plot types are the most comprehensive list that I have found, but there may be more, depending on who you ask. Nicely Said claims there are only six in this post. I do like how she points out that it’s more about an emotional cycle than anything, but I’ll let you decide.
The Seven Plot Types
- Heroic Journey/Quest
- Rags to Riches
- Voyage and Return
- Overcoming the Monster
Again, a variety of plot structures exist, all depending on how complex you intend to get in the story. The most basic structure is a beginning, middle, and end. Expanding that a little takes you to Freytag’s Pyramid, or the plot pyramid. This adds the rising action and falling action, or simply what takes you from the beginning to the middle, and then the middle to the end.
Going beyond the pyramid, you may want to select the plot structure based on what plot type you are incorporating. The heroic journey has its own plot structure complete with plot points and a sense of pacing as well. Another branch off of the pyramid is the snowflake method, which is really a planning tactic. Taking the basic three points of the plot, and then expanding on that by adding conflict. With each elaboration, the story is fleshed out, like the snowball effect.
The three act structure and the seven plot structure are options that have broken down plot points that need to occur in a certain order. These methods also help in managing the pacing of a story. Save the Cat is a structure I’ve heard of, but haven’t looked into much yet. But if you’re interested in looking a little deeper into plot structures and other options, check out this post by BookFox.
The story plot is the plot as a whole made up of all of the details that make the story unique. This includes the specifics of characters, events or plot points, and the layout of the plot. The layout of a plot would be the plot type and plot structure, just before all of the other details are added. The skeleton or basic of a story is what is made up of the type and structure.
Basic Plot Points
- Inciting Incident
- Turn of Events
- Rising Stakes
- Definitive Moment
The plot points are generally dictated by the plot structure, however, they are further specified by the details of the story. The call to adventure may be a letter delivered by a flock of owls, or finding home burned to the ground. Also referred to as the inciting incident, or the big bad thing. Some event needs to propel the character into the start of the story. This will look a little different for every story, but will always be the moment that gets things rolling.
- Loyal Friend
- Love Interest
Characters are often determined by the plot type of the story. The heroic journey requires a character with some sort of quest or noble cause to live up to. And a rags to riches story requires a character that has little and is in search for more wealth. In order to fill in the requirements, a cast of characters need to fill in a series of archetypes such as the hero, the jack of all trades, the love interest, the villain. These are roles that are needed for a story, but they are made unique with the specifications of the character playing the role within the story. The wise sage or hermit may love talking and hearing the sound of his or her own voice. The hero may be the underdog, and the villain may be a young child. For a list of archetypes, visit this, created by Industrial Scripts.
All of these put together creates the story plot, and at that point the story is planned to the extend to start writing. So finish jotting down those notes and ideas, and then jump right into writing the story!