Plot Structures

Almost all stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. Plays also have a three-act structure - the set-up, the confrontation and the resolution. Historically, this structure has been drawn like this:

simple plot structure

Six-stage Plot Structure

These days, the three elements are more likely to be broken down into more complex structures. A common plot structure consists of six stages. The stages are referred to as:
Rising action
Falling action

This is how they are represented in a plot diagram:

detailed plot structure

This element is where you present the main character and other characters and show how they're living before anything affects them. The reader can get to know your characters here.

This is where something needs to happen - an unexpected crisis, a difficulty or a dilemma facing a character or characters. At this point, the tension rises, represented by the rising line in the diagram.

Rising Action
The rising action can consist of several rises and falls in tension, as the character(s) attempt to resolve the conflict.

This is meant to be the most exciting moment in the story and where the conflict is usually resolved.

Falling Action
This is where where the outcome of the climax is played out, where it's effects on the characters are shown. As the line falls, the tension decreases.

This is the very end of the plot. It may be happy or sad. It may leave questions unanswered.

'Save The Cat' Plot Structure.

Another variation on the three-act structure is Bruce Snyder's 'Save the Cat Beat Sheet' from his book "Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need."

It consists of a series of key plot points or beats to help a writer structure their screenplay. Put simply:

1. Opening Image:
Introduces the audience to the world of the story and sets the tone.

2. Theme Stated:
Establishes the central theme or message of the story.

3. Set-Up:
Introduces the main characters and their goals or desires.

4. Catalyst:
An event that sets the protagonist on their journey.

5. Break into Two:
Marks the end of the first act and the beginning of the protagonist's journey. (A second storyline could also be introduced here).

6. Fun and Games:
The protagonist embarks on their journey and faces various challenges or obstacles.

7. Midpoint (so roughly half-way through the story):
A major turning point that raises the stakes and changes the direction of the story.

8. Bad Guys Close In:
The protagonist faces increased challenges and setbacks.

9. All is Lost:
The lowest point for the protagonist before the climax

10. Dark Night of the Soul:
The protagonist reflects on their failures and doubts.

11. Break into Three:
The protagonist regains their resolve and prepares for the final confrontation.

12. Finale:
The climax of the story where the protagonist faces their biggest challenge.

13. Final Image:
The closing image that reflects the protagonist's growth and the resolution of the story.

It can be helpful to lay out your story following a plot structure, but there's nothing to stop you then playing around with the sequence.

For example, if you want to grab the reader straight away, you may want to begin your story nearer to a conflict and fill in the 'Exposition' or 'Set-up" as you go along.

Many films these days rearrange the chronology of events for dramatic effect. Remember, there are no hard and fast rules!