menu

How to Write a Story Ladder Layout


While elementary school teachers often use story ladders to illustrate plot in books, they're also a useful tool for fiction writers seeking to organize their projects. A story ladder organizes the events of a plot through an illustration of a ladder, with each rung representing a significant development. Whether you're preparing to write a short story or the next best-seller, designing a story ladder can help you create a gripping sequence of events for readers.

Create the beginning of your ladder by drawing two vertical, parallel lines on a piece of paper. These will be the rails of your ladder. Then, beneath the rails, write a brief sentence describing what your story is about. Think about what details from your story idea would best catch readers' attention and encourage them to move up the ladder of the plot by reading on.

Draw the first rung on your ladder. Inside it, describe the main character's condition during the exposition stage of the plot, including their current circumstances and areas of discontent. If you were making a story ladder for "Cinderella," for example, this rung might say that Cinderella is unhappy living with and serving her wicked stepmother and wants something more from life.

Leave a space on your ladder and draw the next rung. This rung is for the inciting incident, the event that pushes the character out of her present state and into the main action of the story. Write a sentence inside the rung describing what happens at this point in the plot. In a Cinderella story ladder, the next rung might describe the arrival of Cinderella's fairy godmother, who grants her wish to go to the ball.

Add the next rung to your ladder. This one will represent the complication in the plot that makes life more difficult for your main character as the action rises. Write a sentence describing what happens that gets in the way of your character's primary goal. In "Cinderella," it might be that she must return to her normal life at midnight after falling in love with the prince, and loses her glass slipper as she flees the ball.

Draw the next rung on the ladder. This one is the climax, the highest point the action reaches in the story. Write down a sentence that describes what the climax in your story will be and what is at stake for your main character. On a "Cinderella" story ladder, the climax would be the arrival of the prince at Cinderella's house and the discovery that the glass slipper fits.

Draw the last rung, which will represent the plot's resolution. This is the aftermath of the climax, in which the intensity of the story's action begins to fall. In your sentence, describe where readers find your main character at the end of the story and how she has changed as a result of the events. In "Cinderella," the resolution is Cinderella's departure from her stepmother's house to live happily ever after with the prince.

Above your ladder, write a sentence that describes the main theme of your story, the central idea or lesson that it teaches. The theme should be a concept that ties all the rungs of your story ladder together. For "Cinderella," a sample theme statement might be that even if you face difficult circumstances, it's possible to make your life into something better.

Tip
  • Read over your story ladder once you've finished to see if you like the arrangement of events. If not, create an alternative ladder with a different plot and outcome.
Items you will need
Paper
Writing utensil
About the Author

Kori Morgan holds a Bachelor of Arts in professional writing and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and has been crafting online and print educational materials since 2006. She taught creative writing and composition at West Virginia University and the University of Akron and her fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals.

Photo Credits
  • Ingram Publishing/Ingram Publishing/Getty Images