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Plot in Fiction: Definition, Parts & Subplots

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  • 0:01 A Good Story
  • 0:47 Pieces of a Plot
  • 2:20 The Pieces of a Plot in Action
  • 4:20 Subplots
  • 5:23 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

This lesson explores plot in fiction. We will define the term, explore the various parts of a plot (exposition, conflict, rising action, climax, and resolution), and learn about subplots.

A Good Story

You set your book down on the table with a sigh and a smile. You've just finished an adventure novel by one of your favorite authors and found it very satisfying. The characters were appealing and relatable. The author's writing style was smooth and interesting. The setting was intriguing and even spooky. What attracted you the most, though, was the storyline itself. You found yourself so caught up in the book's plot that sometimes you could hardly put it down.

The plot of a work of fiction is its storyline, the ordered sequence of events that make up the story. The plot shows readers what happens to the characters as well as the characters' reactions to these occurrences and the complex consequences of their actions.

Pieces of a Plot

Most plots contain five basic elements.

1. A plot begins with an exposition, or introduction, which presents the main characters, describes the story's setting, and usually provides some background information to help readers understand the story that is about to unfold.

2. Either in the exposition or very soon afterward, the author lays out the plot's conflict, or main problem. The conflict usually pits the main characters against themselves, each other, society, nature, or something supernatural.

3. As the story progresses, the main characters, helped or hindered by other characters and by their own qualities and limitations, attempt to solve the conflict through a series of choices and actions that lead to consequences and then to more choices and actions. This part of the plot is usually called rising action, and the story's drama builds higher and higher.

4. Eventually, the story reaches its climax, or turning point. The climax is a crisis moment of high tension and emotion in which the main characters solve the conflict and learn important things about themselves, other people, and the world.

5. Finally, the resolution releases the tension of the climax, wraps up the loose ends of the story, and brings readers to a satisfying conclusion.

The Pieces of a Plot in Action

Let's use your adventure story as an example to illustrate each of these pieces of a plot.

In the exposition, you meet the story's main character, a terminally ill mountain climber with the goal of climbing Mt. Everest. You are also introduced to several supporting characters, including the climber's team and doctor, and you catch a glimpse of the setting as you stand with the characters at the foot of the mountain.

You quickly discover the conflict of the story. The main character is challenging himself to meet his goal in spite of his illness, but he also faces a battle with nature as he ascends the mountain, a climb that is difficult and dangerous even for a healthy person.

The action rises rapidly as the climber and his team start up the mountain. Along the way, they face all sorts of difficulties, including blocked paths, exhaustion, the desire of some team members to give up and go back, the doctor's advice to the main character to stop the climb, an avalanche, and the sheer physical challenge of the endeavor. Along the way, the main character makes many decisions and has to cope with their consequences. The drama heightens as the team climbs higher.

Then, in the midst of a snowstorm and at the point of exhaustion, the climber, now accidentally separated from his team and doctor, reaches the top of the mountain. The story attains its climax, its highest point of tension, as readers wonder whether the climber will die before he achieves his goal. They then share the heights of his emotion on the mountaintop.

The story doesn't end there, however. In the resolution, the rest of the team arrives at the top to find the main character lying in the snow. Having reached his goal, he dies in the arms of his doctor. The team carries him back down, mourning his passing but rejoicing in his victory.

Subplots

Most stories have a main plot, like the one we just followed, but also contain several subplots, or secondary plots, that provide side stories to enhance the main plot, develop the characters, reveal necessary information, and add tension-building twists and turns to the story. Subplots usually feature secondary characters and involve fewer events and decisions, but they, too, reach a climax and are resolved by the end of the story.

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