The article Points of a Story: 6 Key Plot Points That Every Story Needs appeared first on The Write Practice.
One thing writers have told me consistently is that knowing story structure and the major plot points—or points of a story—makes writing great stories easier. But what are the main points of a story? How can you get them into your books?
I’ve personally found story structure to be incredibly helpful, not just in writing novels and screenplays, but also in memoir and even, sometimes, writing nonfiction books.
In this guide, we’re going to talk about the basic points of a story and how to use story structure to make your writing easier and more effective. I’ll share the six major plot points and talk about a few other points you might look for when writing a book that will give you a general roadmap to writing your story.
We’ll also look at a couple of examples so you can see how these plot points in action. And then I’ll give you a writing exercise to put your new knowledge into action.
To do this, let’s first talk about what plot even is, and how it might help you with your writing and screenwriting.
What is a Basic Plot?
Plot is a sequence of events in a story in which the main character is put into a challenging situation that forces them to make increasingly difficult choices, driving the story toward a climactic event and resolution.
In other words, plot is the events that make up your story. Which means plot points are the big moments, the events that change everything.
What’s interesting is that as stories have evolved over thousands of years, people have begun to see patterns in those events.
The Greek philosopher Aristotle was the first recorded person to talk about the patterns stories make, but others have come up with entire frameworks for plot structure, including ancients like Horace to modern authors like Gustav Freytag to contemporary theorists like Robert McKee and Shawn Coyne.
Story structure describes those frameworks for understanding how stories are made. This includes important elements like the subjects, characters, and major plot points.
That’s why story structure can be so helpful, because it gives you a way to think about story that can help you come up with ideas when you’ve run out. They can help you choose between the different directions your story might go. And they can help you evaluate what’s working in your story, and what’s not.
One popular form of this is called three act structure, first suggested by Aristotle himself, which divides a story into three separate parts.
Three act structure is best described by this 100 year old writing advice:
“In the first act, put your character up a tree. In the second act, throw rocks at them. In the third act, bring them down.”
We don’t have time to go through all story structure theory in this article, but we’ll cover the major plot points and look at some examples.
If you want to go deeper, check out my book The Write Structure, which fully explores the principles behind what makes best-selling stories work and teaches you to write them.
You can find The Write Structure and get a copy here.
The 6 Basic Plot Points
To start our conversation about plot points, you need to know that there are six basic plot points. These are more than just plot points, though. They are the six elements of plot found in every story.
Originally developed by Gustav Freytag, over the years they’ve expanded and evolved into the six that we teach in The Write Structure.
Plot Point 1: Exposition
The exposition is a scene or set of scenes that introduce the audience to the characters, world, and tone of the story.
The exposition is a point at the beginning of a story where nothing really happens, you’re just setting up the events, the world, and the characters.
Focus here on characterization, setting description, and developing the problems that will begin shortly.
For more on the exposition, see our complete guide here.
Plot Point 2: Inciting Incident
The inciting incident is the event in a story that upsets the character’s status quo and begins the story’s movement.
In other words, the inciting incident is a problem that forces the characters into action, and as such, it’s the story’s first major turning point.
For an event to qualify as an inciting incident, it must meet five criteria:
- Early. A story’s inciting incident occurs early in the story, sometimes in the first scene, almost always within the first three to four scenes.
- Interruption. Inciting incidents are an interruption in the main character’s normal life.
- Out of the protagonist’s control. Inciting incidents are not caused by the character and are not a result of the character’s desires.
- Life-changing. The event must have higher-than-normal stakes and the potential to change the protagonist’s life.
- Urgent. Inciting incidents necessitate an urgent response.
When you’re thinking about the inciting incident, the big problem that starts the plot of your story, make sure it meets the criteria above.
For more on the inciting incident, see our complete guide here.
Plot Point 3: Rising Action/Progressive Complications
The rising action in a story moves the plot forward through a series of progressively more complicated events and decisions by the main character or characters, leading up to a final decision of great significance, the dilemma (next plot point).
Most characters, like most people, are reluctant to make decisions, especially difficult decisions. That’s what the rising action is for, moving the characters to a point where they are forced to make a decision.
The way it does this is by putting the characters through a series of progressively more complicated events and choices. All of which build up to a moment where the protagonist must make a decision, regardless of the consequences that come with it.
For more on the rising action, see our guide here.
Plot Point 4: Dilemma
A dilemma is the point when a character is faced with an impossible choice. This choice must be between either two good or bad things.
This is also the most important plot point in a story. It forces the character to take action, and those actions come with consequences—even if they decide not to act.
Great stories are built around a single, overarching choice. The entire story builds to this dilemma. And the denouement, the story’s resolution, falls away from this dilemma. The climax, the highest point of action in the story, emerges directly from the dilemma.
Which is all to say: if you don’t have a dilemma, you don’t have a story.
For more on the dilemma. see our guide here.
Plot Point 5: Climax
The climax is the point where the protagonist makes their choice. It is the moment of highest drama, action, and movement.
The climax is usually very close to the end of a story, often the second to last or third to last scene (although sometimes longer denouements are required, leaving the climax further from the end).
Some stories also have the story’s chief climax at the end of the second act, not the third. In these cases there may be a smaller climax near the end of the story.
For more on the climax. see our complete guide here.
Plot Point 6: Denouement
The denouement is the final part of a narrative, usually in which the outcome of the story is revealed.
It’s the moment we learn what the world looks like after going thr