ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

How to Make a Short Story Plot Diagram

Updated on August 21, 2015

Stories Are All Alike

The crafting of a good story is a formidable task. You struggle with the conceiving of characters, settings, and the inclusion of thematic layers of meaning. To write a story well, you need to be prepared for many revisions and many long sessions, some ending in frustration. The task of fleshing out a story is, indeed, a difficult process; the basic plot elements, however, are the same in every story you've ever read, seen, or heard.

Since storytelling always involves conflict (what does this say about us as human beings?), it seems natural that the moving into and out of that conflict follows a universal format. Once understood, this format can be used to design endless storylines. These storylines, in turn, can be used for any related medium--short stories, books, films, and television included. Creating a plot diagram is an essential part of writing a story. Once you have the hang of it, you'll find that it cuts down on those most frustrating revision sessions. 

Source

Streamline the Picture

Below you'll see an illustration of a streamlined plot diagram. Most teachers will utilize a diagram that includes rising action and falling action as categories, but I've never found these ideas to be intuitive. "Rising" and "falling" are too nondescript, especially since "rising" is often meant as conflict, and "falling" is often missing altogether from a given plot. This format only includes the basic four elements of plot: exposition, conflict, climax and resolution (sometimes referred to as denouement). Complications form a subgroup of conflict, but since you're writing this out, clearly there's more room to do so on the top side of the diagram.

Exposition

The two points on this introductory segment are meaningful. This first point indicates the very opening of the story, and the second represents the precise moment that your story enters its conflict. You need to describe three attributes on the exposition of your plot diagram: character(s), setting(s), and intro to conflict. The first two can be swapped in order, but the third never is (consider the second section of the plot diagram, and this makes sense). In other words, your story might start by describing setting and then move on to characters, or your story might start by describing characters and then open up to establish setting. Think about just about any movie you've seen or book you've read, and you realize this is standard practice.

* Write a sentence about your protagonist, or main character; include quick background information, physical description, etc..

* Write a sentence about your setting; include season, time, quick inside/outside description, etc..

* Write a sentence describing the moment that your protagonist encounters his/her difficulty. This is the small event that sets your story up for the conflict. This moment does not have to enlighten the protagonist to the big-picture issue, but it should introduce it (oftentimes this is the first encounter between the protagonist and the antagonist). From this point forward, the conflict escalates.


Conflict and Complications

Your conflict is the central obstacle that your protagonist must overcome. This might be escaping an abandoned mill, defeating the enemy pirate crew, or finding a cure for a rare disease. Your complications are smaller events that feed the conflict. In the case of the mill scenario, your complications might include unsuccessfully prying the door open (this would occur immediately after the end of the exposition), navigating an unsteady staircase, and killing a rabid raccoon near an old assembly line (yes, I know that was a strange one!). All three of these events occur as part of the conflict, on the path to the climax.

* Write one sentence for your conflict, and only one. This is the single section on your plot diagram that can be somewhat vague (see samples above). This sentence sums up your big-picture problem.

* Write three sentences, representing three complications. This are very specific events that feed your conflict. Each one is a separate obstacle.


Climax

Stop thinking about the climax of a story as the most "exciting" moment. This is an unproductive, simplistic definition; I have no idea why it's taught so frequently in these terms. The climax of a story is the moment that the conflict can go no further (it has reached its height). In other words, it's the moment the conflict ends. The tension created by the conflict cannot go any further, which means it's settled, one way or the other. It might be the moment the protagonist kills the antagonist, or the moment the protagonist escapes the seemingly inescapable labyrinth. In the mill scenario, it might be the moment the protagonist crawls through a sewer pipe and comes up through a grate outside. The moment the conflict ends is the climax, and it doesn't have to be all that exciting. Retrain your brain to accept this.

* On your diagram, write one sentence. That's it, one. Describe the moment that your protagonist permanently settles the conflict on your diagram.


Resolution

The resolution on your diagram is the outcome of your story (not your conflict) or the hint at what the outcome will be. This is why this segment is depicted as a dotted arrow. Your actual resolution might be as brief as a sentence. Anything that occurs after your climax is fair game, so consider the stories you've read or the movies you've seen. Often, a character will be seen having a drink back on her deck, or hitchhiking down the highway, or embracing a loved one. In the mill scenario, perhaps the resolution depicts the protagonist walking up the front steps of his colonial; this isn't the climax, since the moment he escaped the mill served that purpose.

* Write 2-3 sentences, if necessary, describing what happens after the climax.


Add Flesh to the Skeleton

If you're careful with your details, you now have a framework for a solid story.  This structure is inherent in every story told, so there's no problem shifting the purpose of your storyline from one genre to another.  The writing of your story will still be a time-consuming process, granted, but now you have a skeleton; fleshing out that skeleton will be easier with a basic sense of its shape.  Creating a plot diagram is one of the first things you should do in the process of writing any story.

Comments

Submit a Comment

No comments yet.

working

This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

Show Details
Necessary
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Features
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Marketing
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Statistics
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)