The art of developing a plot

Back when I was in grad school, studying acting, I had a great script analysis class, taught by a phenomenal instructor. She was passionate about what she taught and knew more about deconstructing a script than anyone I have ever known. That class really helped me understand the ebb and flow of a story (as did being an actor who was taught to always respect the words of the playwright and the journey of the story.) To that end, I thought I would share a bit of that information with you, in a very basic fashion, as it could apply to the art of writing a novel.

Figure 1

The image you see in Figure 1 represents the basis of a plot line. As you can see the story line rises and falls, peaks at the climax, and gradually falls to the conclusion with the denouement. But between the beginning and the climax lie some very crucial pieces of the puzzle. Let’s take a look at them.

Inciting incident

This moment of a script or story is the action that causes the rest of the story to happen. If it were not for this moment in the plot, there would be no reason for the rest of the plot. Let’s look at Hamlet. There are many theories regarding the inciting incident of this play. Some say it is is the appearance of Hamlet’s father’s ghost. When the ghost of Hamlet’s father speaks to Hamlet, the son is propelled forward and can not stop his actions. The rest of the play would not happen had the ghost not appeared.


This is not actually a technical term, but it’s an important idea. One of the best directors I ever had told me that drama only happens when obstacles (or hurdles) are placed in front of the character, blocking that character from reaching his goal. The more challenging the obstacle, the greater the drama.


The climax of the story is that point where either the greatest hurdle is reached and overcome, or the emotional peak of the story is reached. A climax must occur or the “pay off” of the story would be cheapened.


This is the gentle “come down” from the climax. The denouement allows the story to end without leaving the audience, or the reader, feeling left on a cliff. This piece of the story should be gradual, but does not always have to come all the way back down a similar “rise and fall” as the beginning of the story.

There you have it. In a nut shell, that is how you put together a story. As you create your outlines, take a look at them and make sure they have all of the above elements. If they do, your outline should be good to go (so long as the plot is cohesive.)