Find the characters that are introduced at the beginning of the story or play and determine which ones are well-described. These are the main characters. The purpose of the exposition, which is the beginning of a narrative, is to introduce these characters and the problem with which they will struggle. The initial setting of the story is also introduced here.
Determine what problem the characters must face. This is known as the conflict, and it is also introduced during the exposition. There are many types of conflict, but the most common are man against man, man against nature and man against himself.
Spot the actions occurring in the story which exacerbate the conflict already introduced in the exposition. These events, or the rising action, typically involve the main characters taking actions, which heighten the tension provided by the initial conflict. This rising action may involve the introduction of sub-plots that will arise and see their own resolution before the climax of the main plot arrives.
Identify the point in the narrative when the main characters confront the problem at the core of the conflict. This is the climax of the story. Note that this may not result in the problem actually being solved. This so-called moment in the story may actually persist over some period of time, or the author may feint at the climax multiple times before bringing the characters to the final confrontation with the problem.
Distinguish those events which occur after the climax. Usually some later events in a story, known as the falling action, depict the characters resuming some sort of normal life, though it may be much changed by the climax of the story. Characters may have died, suffered injury or disappeared. They may have to deal with certain loose ends that were not resolved completely during the climax. These events and actions constitute the falling action of a story.
Recognize the end of the story, known as the denouement or resolve, by noting how any remaining loose ends are fixed. The denouement is essentially how things stand at the end of a story.