What Are the Elements of a Story's Plot?

Stories, whether good or bad, contain common elements. What's the story about? This question asks for a description of the plot, and the skeleton of the story is known as plot structure. A story can be introspective on a character, where the things that happen during the course of the story take place within a character's mind. Or, a story can be about an adventure a character takes to far-off lands, without a lot of text devoted to what is going on inside a character's head. It would behoove all creative writers to understand the elements of plot structure.


The first part of a story's plot describes the location, characters and initial problems in the story. Depending on the kind of story the author is writing, the exposition will be focused on different things. For example, a high fantasy's exposition will contain a lot of descriptions of the environment because the reader will need to be introduced to not only new characters, but new creatures, magical abilities, societies, etc.

The exposition is crucial in introducing the reader to the protagonist, or main character. If a reader does not like the protagonist or environment, he will not keep reading. The exposition also serves to illustrate any problems a character is facing. If a character has any ambitions or goals, which most do, they will be made known in the exposition.

Complication and Rising Action

The rising action begins when a complication takes place that leads the protagonist to begin his journey. Sometimes, a character doesn't have any interesting goals or ambitions until the complication. The event may be as subtle as a subconscious existential crisis or as obvious as an attack on the protagonist's society. When the event occurs, the protagonist may discover that he has to achieve something different than originally thought.

The rising action contains events that add tension to the story. The tension will continue to increase until the story's climax. Depending on the setting and the character's ambitions, the protagonist may have the full support of his friends and society, especially if he is setting out on some kind of journey or quest to preserve society. Other characters may fight society or the status quo.


The climax is the moment of highest suspense. All rising action leads to this moment when the outcome and fate of the characters will be determined. This, the high point of the story, tends to be the most exciting and is usually when the protagonist makes his most important decisions. This element contains the final confrontation, which the protagonist must face.

Falling Action and Resolution

The falling action and resolution are the events immediately after the climax. Conflicts are resolved, the resolution ties up any loose ends in the story and any final mysteries are resolved. The protagonist may also discover something shocking about himself or other characters that was unknown before. Readers are aware that the story will end soon when they've reached this portion of the plot structure.


The denouement is the opposite of the exposition. Instead of setting the scene of the story, it sets the scene of the world after the protagonist's journey has taken place. How the characters or environment has changed because of the conflict in the story will be described in the denouement.