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Narrative Structure

Plot Structure

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Plot is the basic structure of any story but narrative can have a variety of internal structures related to style, temporal elements and codification of the message. Plot describes a series of events that happens to the characters in a described setting. Ideally, all events should follow logically in order to maintain the continuity of the story. Larger texts often have subplots that run simultaneously with the main one.

A-Plot is the term used for the main plot that binds all the subplots. The A-plot is not necessarily the most important one.

A Subplot or Side Story is a plot that has no direct connection to the A-Plot, but is important for understanding various aspects of the characters' personalities and the world created by the author.

There are several kinds of subplots:

A Character Arc describes the events happening to a (secondary) character and allows the reader to learn more about his background.

A Story Arc is a partial plot that is typical for episodic storytelling media such as TV series. It describes events that happen to the characters over several episodes, but is not crucial for understanding the events that occur in various episodes.

Story-within-a-story is a technique used to tell a story during the action of another one. This is more properly called a Frame Narrative.

Other possible plot patterns include:

A Quest is a journey toward a goal typically used as a plot in mythology. In literature, the quest requires great exertion on the part of the hero, typically including much travel, which allows the storyteller to introduce exotic locations and cultures. Side-quests are often used to develop character depth by give opportunity for a seemingly perfect character to have flaws that can possibility provoke his downfall. Often side-quests are stepping stones to the completion of a final goal.

The Monomyth (often referred to as the Hero's Journey) is a cyclical journey found in myths as discussed by Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces.


Every story evolves around a conflict or several conflicts that follow seven basic patterns:

Man vs. Himself : a hero is challenged by his own will, confusion, or fears. This is a struggle of the hero who must to come to a decision.

Man vs. Man: a hero faces challenges by antagonists.

Man vs. Society: a hero must confront social traditions, moral principles and edicts.

Man vs. Nature: a hero is challenged by forces of nature.

Man vs. the Supernatural: a hero is challenged by supernatural forces or the unknown.

Man vs. God: a hero is challenged by divine forces or religious or spiritual conviction or belief.

Man vs. Technology: a hero is challenged by the machine, technology or science; this is a common theme in science fiction.

Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations

All plots follow some basic patterns. Georges Polti summarized plots types in his book The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations.

Supplication: Elements - a Persecutor; a Supplicant; and a Power in authority, whose decision is doubtful.

Deliverance: Elements - an Unfortunate, a Threatener, a Rescuer.

Crime Pursued by Vengeance: Elements - an Avenger and a Criminal

Vengeance Taken for Kindred Upon Kindred: Elements - Avenging Kinsman; Guilty Kinsman; Remembrance of the Victim, a Relative of Both

Pursuit: Elements - Punishment and Fugitive

Disaster: Elements - a Vanquished Power; a Victorious Enemy or a Messenger

Falling Prey to Cruelty or Misfortune: Elements - an Unfortunate; a Master or a Misfortune

Revolt: Elements - Tyrant and Conspirator

Daring Enterprise: Elements - a Bold Leader; an Object; an Adversary

Abduction: Elements - the Abductor; the Abducted; the Guardian

The Enigma: Elements - Interrogator, Seeker and Problem

Obtaining: Elements - a Solicitor and an Adversary Who is Refusing, or an Arbitrator and Opposing Parties

Enmity of Kinsmen: Elements - a Malevolent Kinsman; a Hatred or Reciprocally Hating Kinsman

Rivalry of Kinsmen: Elements - the Preferred Kinsman; the Rejected Kinsman; the Object

Murderous Adultery: Elements - Two Adulterers; a Betrayed Husband or Wife

Madness: Elements - Madman and Victim

Fatal Imprudence: Elements - The Imprudent; the Victim or the Object Lost

Involuntary Crimes of Love: Elements - the Lover, the Beloved; the Revealer

Slaying of a Kinsman Unrecognized: Elements - the Slayer, the Unrecognized Victim

Self-Sacrifice for an Ideal: Elements - the Hero; the Ideal; the 'Creditor' or the Person or Thing Sacrificed

Self-Sacrifice for Kindred: Elements - the Hero; the Kinsman; the 'Creditor' or the Person or Thing Sacrificed

All Sacrificed for Passion: Elements - the Lover, the Object of the Fatal Passion; the Person or Thing Sacrificed

Necessity of Sacrificing Loved Ones: Elements - the Hero; the Beloved Victim; the Necessity for the Sacrifice

Rivalry of Superior and Inferior: Elements - the Superior Rival; the Inferior Rival; the Object

Adultery: Elements - a Deceived Husband or Wife; Two Adulterers

Crimes of Love: Elements - The Lover, the Beloved

Discovery of the Dishonour of a Loved One: Elements - the Discoverer; the Guilty One

Obstacles to Love: Elements - Two Lovers, an Obstacle

An Enemy Loved: Elements - The Beloved Enemy; the Lover; the Hater

Ambition: Elements - an Ambitious Person; a Thing Coveted; an Adversary

Conflict With a God: Elements - a Mortal, an Immortal

Mistaken Jealousy: Elements - the Jealous One; the Object of Jealousy; the Supposed Accomplice; the Cause or the Author of the Mistake

Erroneous Judgement: Elements - The Mistaken One; the Victim of the Mistake; the Cause or Author of the Mistake; the Guilty Person

Remorse: Elements - the Culprit; the Victim or the Sin; the Interrogator

Recovery of a Lost One: Elements - The Seeker; the One Found

Loss of Loved Ones: Elements - A Kinsman Slain; a Kinsman Spectator; an Executioner


Roland Barthes developed a concept that every narrative is interwoven with five codes that drive one to maintain interest in a story. The first two codes involve ways of creating suspense in narrative.

The Hermeneutic Code

The hermeneutic code refers to plot elements of a story that, because they are not explained, the reader wishes to be resolved. For example, in a detective story a crime is exposed or postulated and the remainder of the narrative is devoted to answering questions raised by the initial event.

The Proairetic Code

The proairetic code refers to plot events that imply further narrative action. For example, a story character confronts an adversary and the reader wonders what will be the consequence of this action. Suspense is created by action rather than by a reader's wish to have mysteries explained.

Dramatic Structure

Dramatic structure refers to the parts of a plot that define the progression of the story from the introduction to the conclusion.


The Exposition provides background information that situates the story

Rising Action

Rising action refers to the period after the exposition, when conflict has been introduced. Generally the protagonist faces more conflict or obstruction until a climax is reached and the conflict is resolved. Rising action very often comprises the majority of a story.


The Climax is its point of highest tension or drama in a story. It is the critical point where the protagonist reaches a point of no return; he must make decisions and take action that fix the outcome of the story.


Peripeteia is the turning point where the circumstances of the protagonist are reversed and it become evident that the protagonist will succeed. This is the point of passage from evil to good, from dark to light, from ignorance to knowledge, from doubt to clarity.

Falling Action

Falling action that follows the climax and turning point gradually leads to the denouement or catastrophe. In tragedies, the hero's fortunes are decline.


Denouement are events that conclude the story. Conflicts are resolved, the characters situation return to a perceived normal state. There is a sense of catharsis, or release of tension and anxiety, for the reader. A denouement is the unravelling, or untying, of the complexities of a plot.

What is
.Narratology ?

Narrative Structure

The Narrator
Corporal Form
Physical Position
Narrator's Bias

Literary Devices

Stock Characters
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