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The Five Elements of Plot

Updated on April 18, 2014

Why Bother Knowing the Five Elements of Plot?

Understanding and using plot structure is essential! Writers, readers, and students at all levels need to understand story structure too. You need to know this just to be a well rounded, educated person. The five elements of plot help you discuss films, novels, and fictional stories of all types. You've likely learned it in school at least once.

Remember those graphic organizers your English teacher showed you that looked like a mountain with the climax at the top?

(If not, go ahead and draw or think about a mountain shaped curve as we go through the elements.)

Here's a Story Map - See the five elements of plot?

The first element of plot is EXPOSITION.

What is Exposition?

Find out the setting, learn about characters, and get the tone of the story here. The setting includes two parts: where and when. You may or may not be introduced to all of the characters in this first part of the plot, but you will likely learn about the main character, or protagonist. The conflict in the plot is introduced.

The second element of plot is RISING ACTION.

What is rising action?

The rising actions are the events that take place on the first side of the mountain slope in that elements of plot graphic organizer. As it goes up and up, you can tell it's leading to something, but what? The conflict develops further in the rising action. In the best case scenario, rising action makes you want to find out what will happen.

The third element of plot is the CLIMAX!

What is the climax?

Climax is the part where something big happens. It's the turning point of the plot. The climax is usually not long, but it's what you've been waiting for. The climax is the peak of the mountain, often quite intense and filled with emotion.

The fourth element of plot is FALLING ACTION.

What is falling action?

Now you're headed down the other side of the slope. All of the actions that happen after the climax are falling action. There is no more conflict.

The fifth element of plot is the RESOLUTION.

What is the resolution?

Of all the elements of plot, this one is usually quite satisfying. The resolution tells what ended up happening. It's the end. You're off the mountain now.

Who Are You? Writer? Teacher? Student?

I need to know about plot structure because I'm a....

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How Students Use the Five Elements of Plot

In an English class, you may be asked questions to prove how well you have read and comprehended a piece of literature. If you're asked what the exposition, rising action, problem, climax or resolution of a story is, you'd better know what those terms mean. Also, if you know what the main problem of the story is, and where the climax was, you truly will understand the story well.

Students will be asked to write narratives (stories) pretty often. You can use the five elements of plot to plan your story in your pre-writing. If you write a story that contains all five elements of plot, you will automatically have a strong beginning, middle, and end. Stories that go on and on and on, boring the reader, usually do not contain all five elements of plot.

How Teachers Use the Five Elements of Plot

As a teacher of language arts, you will likely teach students to read, write, and comprehend stories. To do that well, you'll teach the five elements of plot, and have students use the vocabulary for the parts of a story. It helps your students to logically analyze stories in order to comprehend what they read, as well as to create logically organized written works of their own.

How Any Person Uses the Five Elements of Plot

Do you read books and watch movies? Cool. Now you have some vocabulary to help you discuss the stories you read and watch with others. For example, in a discussion of a book, you might say that you loved the rising action that lead to the climax because there was so much suspense to it. However, the resolution just wasn't satisfying, because you never knew what happened to Josie. See? When you know the basic parts of a story, that gives you words to talk about those parts.

Plot is not only the storyline of fiction writing. It can also be used to help organize nonfiction personal narratives, histories, biographies, and more.


Has it helped you to know the five elements of plot? In what way?

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    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Now, I can add some intelligent comments when discussing a book. I enjoy reading and love it when the plot has several angles to it.

    • ColorPetGifts profile image

      ColorPetGifts 4 years ago

      I was drawn in as I am also working on a book (my third). This has helped confirm I am on the right track. Many thanks :D

    • profile image

      inspirationz 4 years ago

      I'm thinking of starting to write a story - this lens was a good place to ensure I start on a solid plot foundation :) Thank you!

    • priscillab profile image

      priscillab 4 years ago

      This is getting bookmarked because I will be referring back to it.

    • tobydavis profile image

      tobydavis 4 years ago

      Interesting lens - lots of food for thought :-)

    • SheGetsCreative profile image

      Angela F 4 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Very helpful - bookmarking to study later too. *blessed

    • profile image

      xtianfriborg13 4 years ago

      Great lens!

    • MartiLawrence profile image

      Marti Lawrence 4 years ago from Grain Valley, Missouri

      Excellent page! Very good information presented in a logical and easy-to-understand fashion. Thanks!

    • victoriahaneveer profile image

      victoriahaneveer 4 years ago

      I probably learned this in school but then I forgot it. Now I've had a refresh - thanks!

    • CoolFool83 profile image

      CoolFool83 4 years ago

      I love the explanation of the five elements of plot. A good reminder for any writer.

    • marigoldina profile image

      Heather B 4 years ago

      I remember learning this in school! :-)

    • Vortrek Grafix profile image

      Vortrek Grafix 4 years ago

      Being very inclined to apply the algorithmic approach to almost anything, it's great to have a formal standard towards which to strive in one's writing style. On the flip side though, the more one wants to stand out with loose associations and\or artistic liberty, the more one is likely to stray from the standard. I look at the standard as a compass of sorts. It's a good guide, and even when one strays from the beaten path, it helps keep one foot grounded in reality so one doesn't alienate one's readership.

    • fastbackpainrel profile image

      fastbackpainrel 4 years ago

      I'm wondering if this could help me with things like lenses specifically.

      I will have to come back and read again, and work it out. I think it's a little bit like sales impulses, something truly useful once you understand it.


    • bushaex profile image

      Stephen Bush 5 years ago from Ohio

      The resolution of this plot was your purple star! SquidAngel blessings.

    • gottaloveit2 profile image

      gottaloveit2 5 years ago

      Back for another reread about the 5 elements of plot. Am thinking of putting a book together...

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      great lens. I was expecting a graphic organizer of the plot. thanks,

    • Annbulance2000 profile image

      Annbulance2000 5 years ago

      Informative. If I ever finish the story I started. I know, I know. Procrastination instead of dedication. Ah me such is life.

    • RichLeighHD profile image

      RichLeighHD 5 years ago

      Brilliant lens very well presented!

    • lclchors profile image

      lclchors 5 years ago

      great information

    • PaulWinter profile image

      PaulWinter 5 years ago

      Very helpful information on the 5 elements of a plot. The same principles apply to things like writing music too.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 5 years ago from Canada

      Knowing how language and story telling work really can make you a better writer. I had a great English arts teacher in high school and she really got things deep into my old brain.

    • profile image

      7thStone 5 years ago

      Great lens ... and you're right ... people often think it's only necessary to be aware of this if they're planning on writing. Knowing plot structure allows us to have intelligent discourse about all types of storytelling. Thanks so much for putting this lens out there to expand understanding :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I like how concisely you get the five elements of plot out so writers can start writing rather than reading long rules, congratulations on your purple star!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      My eldest daughter loevs to write. I'll bring her by here. I bought her a couple books for Chrsitmas, including Spilling Ink. I have The Plot Thickens. How many of these are appropriate for a fourteen year old girl?

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 5 years ago

      'Nother blessing from me. It is so hard to sit down and see a blank screen, we need all the help we can.

    • Jadelynx-HP profile image

      Tracey Boyer 5 years ago from Michigan

      This lens helped me to understand the importance of these elements to any successful work. Nicely done.

    • kathysart profile image

      kathysart 5 years ago

      This is such a timely lens as I am in the beginnings of writing a book.. daunting lol! Thumbs up on this lens!!

    • profile image

      JoshK47 5 years ago

      I've read a few books by folks who could definitely use a trip to this lens! Great work.

    • profile image

      momsfunny 5 years ago

      Very informative. Nice lens.

    • gottaloveit2 profile image

      gottaloveit2 6 years ago

      Very nice explanation of the five elements of plot. Great job.

    • Pam Irie profile image

      Pam Irie 6 years ago from Land of Aloha

      Simple and to the point refresher lens; bookmarked this one. Thank you! :)

    • profile image

      squidoolover76 6 years ago

      A great unique idea about an interesting topic

    • EdTecher profile image

      Heidi Reina 6 years ago from USA

      Simply put for the 5 elements of plot. My students struggle the most with exposition but they're great with rising action.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Very nicely explanation of the five elements of a plot! Blessed by a Squid Angel aboard the Labor Day Bus.

    • julescorriere profile image

      Jules Corriere 6 years ago from Jonesborough TN

      This would make an outstanding resource for students. Congratulations on the purple star.

    • profile image

      jseven lm 6 years ago

      Great explaining about something I never knew. Congrats on the purple star!

    • clouda9 lm profile image

      clouda9 lm 6 years ago

      Congrats on your "glowing purpleness" :) Well written and truly helpful for writers of all ages.

    • Nancy Hardin profile image

      Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 6 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      Congrats on your purple star and thanks for sharing this lens.

    • profile image

      tylo 6 years ago

      Nice Lens! I am halfway through writing a novel, I am trying to figure out the climax and the resolution right now. This is a good lens for people to read before starting to write.

    • mbgphoto profile image

      Mary Beth Granger 6 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

      Congratulations on your Purple Star!

    • Frischy profile image

      Frischy 6 years ago from Kentucky, USA

      This makes plot easy to understand. I would use it with young teens to introduce this topic, along with an activity such as labeling a graph.

    • Showpup LM profile image

      Showpup LM 6 years ago

      Wonderful lens on an important topic. You explained it very well.

    • cbessa profile image

      cbessa 6 years ago

      Loved this lens. Simple, fast, and yet, useful.

      I will keep these tips in hand for when i finally have the guts to write something. :-)


    • profile image

      GreatWestern 6 years ago

      Very nice overview of fictional story structure!

    • franstan lm profile image

      franstan lm 6 years ago

      This is a lens to be proud of. Blessed by a roving Squid Angel

    • WorkitSmart profile image

      WorkitSmart 6 years ago

      I think you can expand the content quite a bit here, but the brief descriptions were accurate.


    • paperfacets profile image

      Sherry Venegas 6 years ago from La Verne, CA

      I just finished reading The Embezzler by James M Cain. It was a serial for a magazine in 1938. I can see all five elements in the story and how the elements were used. It is an excellent short novel I could not put it down. The main character almost lost everything.

    • mbgphoto profile image

      Mary Beth Granger 6 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

      Love the way you combined information and sales recommendations in your lenses. blessed.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I love books that have no real resolution, lets me believe the next in the series will be coming soon.

    • Monika Weise profile image

      Monika Weise 6 years ago from Indianapolis, IN USA

      This was a great refresher for me. Good lens :)

    • JoyfulPamela2 profile image

      JoyfulPamela2 6 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      This will be helpful to many people as they are writing their stories! =D

    • profile image

      moonlitta 6 years ago

      You've been really informative! Angel Blessed!

    • walterfano profile image

      Walter Fano 6 years ago from Venice

      Thanx for the tips!

    • profile image

      poutine 6 years ago

      Very much needed. Thanks.

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 6 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      You should write a novel, Joan! You've got the plot down to a science. I agree with Virginia, you explained this very well! I'd love to see an image of a mountain!!

    • LisaAuch1 profile image

      Lisa Auch 6 years ago from Scotland

      I think as I write I really should remember this! What a great laid out, easy to understand page. Blessed by a passing angel looking out for new lensmasters on squidoo. Good luck in your journey.

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 6 years ago from Central Florida

      Thank you! I was an English major in college and never had it explained that clearly to me. Greatly appreciated.