Elements of Plot

If you write fiction, you probably already understand the limitations surrounding the convention you write in (mystery, romance, etc.) along with reader expectations. Thus, I’m moving past those in this post and talking about plot in terms of subject, nature of plot, structure of plot, laws of plot, and subplots.

  • Subject–This is what the work refers to,  not what the actual work contains. Subject is not content; therefore, it exists independent of the story. Readers pick books by subject, not content. The reader already expects the work to tell a story and to deal with events in some particular setting. Your job, as author, is to choose subject(s) to which you can give your fullest response as a writer.
  • Nature of plot–This is where you reveal the events in your book to the reader. As author, you most likely rely on causal relationships between characters in figuring out the arrangement of the events you reveal in your plot.
  • Structure of plot–This is pretty simple. There’s a beginning, a middle, and an end. The conflict, complication, and climax reside in the middle section.
  • Laws of plot–There are four laws: plausibility, surprise, suspense, and unity. Plausibility means the plot must be convincing on its own terms. Surprise can deepen interest, as long as it doesn’t violate the law of plausibility. Suspense brings two elements to the plot–expectant uncertainty regarding the outcome of the story and foreshadowing that uses details to offer the reader hints about the direction the story will take. Unity is what results if you follow the principles of plot laid out here.
  • Subplots–These must meet two conditions to work. They should be closely related to the main plot, and they should have a connection to some element in the work other than plot.

Now you’ve got a primer on the elements of plot. Through plot, you get to organize the raw material of experience along with your understanding of the experience into a story your readers will love.

Happy writing!


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