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There's an infinite amount of plot structures depending on the story you're telling. Some types are better than others within certain genres. Here are the most common plot structures, and how they're used:
The Four Main Plot Structures:
Also known as dramatic structure, this is the most simplistic of plot structures, and probably the one you were taught in elementary school. In this type of story structure, the climax falls in the middle, and the latter half of the story consists of falling action and the resolution. This was developed to analyze Greek and Shakespearian plays that use a five-act structure.
Why it's good: It allows authors to explore the consequences of one's actions. It's also good for story analysis.
Why it's bad: Long resolutions get boring fast. Modern novels don't use this because no one wants to read a story where the villain is defeated in the middle.
When to use it: Children's books and short stories
It's good to use in children's books because the goal of most children's books is to teach kids a lesson. Using Freytag's Pyramid gives writers the chance to teach kids the consequences of doing something wrong (lying, bullying, etc.). It works in short stories because the limited length prevents the denouement from being too long and boring the reader.
Examples: Any of Shakespeare's plays
The Fichtean Curve:
This is what most modern novels use, no matter the genre. The Fichtean Curve features a varying number of crises (or mini-climaxes) within the rising action to build up to climax about two-thirds of the way through the story. The falling action is short and used to wrap up loose ends or establish a new way of life for the characters.
Why it's good: Putting crises throughout the story will keep readers hooked until the end. It also helps to keep good pacing. Despite being frequently used, this structure is loose enough that anyone can use it and make it unique for their own story.
Why it's bad: Too much action can be overwhelming. This structure also doesn't work well with certain story types such as Voyage and Return, Rebirth, or Comedy.
When to use it: Action-packed stories, Overcoming the Monster plots, or Quest plots
Examples: Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, World War Z by Max Brooks, or Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
The Hero's Journey:
Another common plot structure that is seen in modern novels (especially western literature), and can be combined with the Fichtean Curve. Often, modern novels are a combination of the two. What makes the Hero's Journey unique is that the protagonist must go through a literal or figurative death that completely transforms them. The death is usually, but not always, the climax of the story. Another key difference in The Hero's Journey is that the protagonist must atone for their past rather than overcome it or move on without going back.
Why it's good: Allows for great character development in character-strong stories.
Why it's bad: Nearly every western novel, film, or TV show (successful and unsuccessful) uses this plot structure. It's a little overdone, but if you can put a good personal twist on it, it can work out just fine.
When to use it: First-person stories, stories with small casts, Voyage and Return plots, or Rebirth plots
Examples: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, or Divergent by Veronica Roth
In Media Res:
Latin for "in the middle of things", In Media Res is a unique plot structure. Rather than start with an exposition that builds up to the action, In Media Res starts right in the middle of the story. If you were to start your story at the second or third crisis point of the Fichtean Curve, you would get In Media Res.
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