Make your choice
Sub-structures are the internal building blocks of the plot detailed in the summary above. For an Act, they might be chapter summaries. For a chapter, they might be scene summaries. Even scenes sometimes have sub-structures, either in the form of a beginning, middle and end, or just as plot beats. Completing this section will help you work through the steps of the plot you are building in this article.
Themes are cues you inject into your story to reinforce the feeling of your genre. They are repeated actions, visuals or events which aim to reinforce the feeling of the setting surrounding your characters. Examples might include the fact that butterflies appear randomly in the darkest hours of night or that, for some reason, all encounters revolve around ruined churches
The exposition is the portion of a story that introduces important background information to the audience; for example, information about the setting, events occurring before the main plot, characterization and back stories, etc. Exposition can be conveyed through dialogue, flashbacks, character's thoughts, background details, in-universe media, or the narrator telling a back-story.
Conflict is part of the pyramid which is sometimes omitted or merged within the introduction and/or rising action. The conflict defines the pressure points, the stressors which propel the story forward and drive your protagonists to act.
In the rising action, a series of events build toward the point of greatest interest. The rising action of a story is the series of events that begin immediately after the exposition (introduction) of the story and builds up to the climax. These events are generally the most important parts of the story, since the entire plot depends on them to set up the climax and, ultimately, to create the satisfactory resolution of the story itself.
The climax is the turning point, which changes the protagonist's fate. If the story is a comedy and things were going badly for the protagonist, the plot will begin to unfold in their favor, often requiring the protagonist to draw on hidden inner strengths. If the story is a tragedy, the opposite state of affairs will ensue, with things going from good to bad for the protagonist, often revealing the protagonist's hidden weaknesses.
During the falling action, the conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist unravels, with the protagonist winning or losing against the antagonist. The falling action may contain a moment of final suspense, in which the final outcome of the conflict is in doubt.
The conclusion is the end of the story, sometimes called dénouement, resolution, or catastrophe. If at the end of the story the protagonist achieves his goal, the story is a comedy; however, if the protagonist fails, the story is a tragedy. After conflicts are resolved, the characters resume their normal lives. The conclusion makes way for the catharsis - an event or events allowing the tension or anxiety to loosen. The denouement is an event that happened before or after the conclusion or is simply explained as untying the complexities of the plot. The conclusion is found at the lowest right side of the pyramid following the falling action. It is the beginning of another act/scene and punctuated as distinct from the other parts of the dramatic structure
Goals describe what the intended resolution of your protagonists is - their motivation. It can be one thing or ten, but a goal must have a solid reason behind it. This can be anything from a reward (monetary or otherwise), to more complex goals like saving your long lost love from the jaws of death.
Hooks, as the name denotes, are pieces of action or knowledge which aim to nudge the protagonists into action - glimpses of hidden truths, dangling carrots for the donkeys to follow. Hooks can be presented as clear as day or can be used subversively to change the understanding of your protagonists during a longer period of time.
Stakes are counters to hooks. They aim to add to the drama and substantiate the goals. Stakes describe what should happen if a goal is not reached. They instill the fear of failure and should be balanced againsts the potential gains.
Moral quandaries are obstacles which oppose the moral sensibilities and understanding of the protagonists. Their aim is, as with stakes, to burden and make the protagonists question their goals. Overcoming a moral quandary is an important step towards a deeper understanding of a protagonist's character. Think of the convictions of your protagonists and set dilemmas for them to work through. For example, does the life of a single loved one out-weight the life of many strangers?
Cruel tricks are events that the protagonists will suffer through. Contrary to moral quandaries and stakes, cruel tricks have nothing to do with the protagonist specifically. Cruel tricks are the manifestation of the fact that, mostly, the heroes have no control over the world. In many ways, it is a practice in humility and builds the protagonist's character forcefully. A common cruel trick to find out that you have been working for the evil side all along and you had no way to know it, until now - So now what? Another example might be for a hero to go on a journey in order to find a potion to heal the village, only to find on his return that everyone was murdered by bandits.
A red herring is a kind of fallacy, an irrelevant topic introduced to divert the attention of listeners or readers from the original issue. In literature, this fallacy is often used in detective or suspense novels to mislead readers or characters, or to induce them to make false conclusions. The red herring of your plot is the decoy. The thing that your protagonists will believe to be true only to discover it was all a sham aimed to make them lose time and dishearten them. For example, a footprint outside the window of a crimescene was in fact made by a passing drunk, and not the criminal.
The stars of the show: these are the main characters of your story, or the PCs of your RPG campaign.
The friendly supporting cast. Those who help by providing support of any type to the protagonists and share the same goals and ideals. They may be individual characters (or NPCs in an RPG game) or allied organizations.
Supporting cast/NPCs which are either bystanders or a balancing force between the protagonists and their adversaries. Members of the story with no intial leaning. These can turn into allies or adversaries depending on the resolution of the steps of the story/campaign/session.
Cast with the same goals as the protagonists. These are not necessarily adversaries, but are after the same piece of the pie, quest goal, reward etc. Once again, competitors may become friends or enemies following action from the protagonists, or may simply remain a constant annoyance.
These are the true enemies, who may be wolves in sheep's clothing, or blatantly opposed to the protagonists. They may include the nemesis, the paragons and their henchmen.
Locations describe the physical locale that your scenes will take place. Describe with all your senses when writing your location articles: How does the church smell, is there lighting and what can be seen? What sounds can be heard? Is there a taste to the air? Or a strange magical buzz?
Threats come in many forms, and are possible sources of danger: they may be environmental (sub-zero temperatures), supernatural (a deadly magical radiation), mechanical or magical traps, or simply hostile characters and monsters (e.g a horde of bandits riding rabid unicorns) which your protagonists will encounter when they explore a location. Threats may be as high level as the freezing temperatures of Planet Hoth, a battalion of Stormtroopers of the Empire (un-named adversaries), or possibly just a patch of quicksand.
Encounters describe all interactive situations the protagonists find themselves involved in - either with other characters or their environment. A list of example encounters includes: