What Is the Literary Element of Plot?

Plot is the structured progression of a literary work; it's one of several elements aspiring writers must learn to master. James Scott Bell, author of the book "Write Great Fiction: Plot and Structure," defines plot as "a small piece of land, generally used for burying dead people, including writers." Even history's most notable wordsmiths disagree about plot. Aristotle believed there are two basic forms: the tragedy and the comedy. Joseph Campbell acknowledged one type of plot: the journey of a hero. William Shakespeare believed there were seven forms: the love story, revenge story, the history, the tall tale, the murder mystery, the coming of age and the hail and farewell.


The exposition introduces the reader to the story and answers the questions: who, what, where, when and why? During the exposition the setting, character and conflict are revealed, and background information is strategically provided to help the reader better understand the story. The exposition often contains foreshadowing, or clues to things that are going to happen later. In film, the exposition is sometimes narrated by the voice of the main character.

Rising Action

In every plot there is an inciting force: an event or a character's action that triggers a conflict. Conflicts involve a man battling against another man, nature, society or himself. A series of events stemming from the conflict occur in a rising, snowball progression, referred to as the rising action. During this period, the reader is meant to sense a forthcoming crisis.Well-constructed rising actions are rife with tension and suspense.


At the peak of apprehension, the opposing characters or forces in the story butt heads with each other. This collision marks the climax, or the high point, for the reader. The climax is the moment in the story at which the reader's emotional investment is the greatest. When the climax occurs the reader is usually able to make a personal judgment regarding his opinion of the story and predict its outcome.

Falling Action

The falling action is the series of events that lead to the resolution of the story's conflict. Generally within the falling action the central conflict unravels and the main character, or protagonist, arrives at some sort of self re-evaluation. Within the falling action, the reader feels a continued high level of suspense, typically paired with a sense of urgency, as the story moves toward its conclusion. Toward the end of the falling action, the reader may begin to predict the outcome.


Derived from a French word meaning "an untying," the denouement is the final step in the plot; it symbolizes the conclusion and the resolution. During the denouement, the characters return to a stable state, and everything returns to normal. The reader's thoughts and emotions also level out as the outcome is fully exposed. It is common in literature for the denouement to reflect the exposition, whereas the state of life for the protagonist evolves full circle.