Mastering Novel Plot Structure: A Full Guide
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 12 min read


  1. What is plot structure?
  2. Classic plot structures
  3. How to choose the right plot structure for your novel
  4. How to outline a plot
  5. Plot development tips
  6. What is a subplot and how to weave them into your plot
  7. How to handle plot holes
  8. How to keep plot interesting
  9. How to write a plot twist
  10. How to end a plot

Ever been lost in the gripping narrative of a novel, and wondered how the author managed to keep you on the edge of your seat? The secret lies in mastering the plot structure. In this guide, we'll walk you through the process of analyzing plot structure in novels—making it simple, enjoyable, and incredibly useful for your own writing.

What is plot structure?

When you're analyzing plot structure in novels, you're essentially looking at the sequence of events that make up the story. This is not just a random series of happenings, but a carefully crafted framework that controls the pacing, tension, and character development in the novel. It's like the backbone that gives a novel its shape and direction.

Let's break down the basic elements of plot structure:

  • Exposition: This is where the author sets up the story, introducing you to the characters, the setting, and the initial conflict. Think of it as the 'who', 'where', and 'what' of the story.
  • Rising Action: Now things start to get interesting. The conflict intensifies, the stakes get higher, and the protagonist is faced with challenges. This builds up suspense and keeps you turning the pages.
  • Climax: This is the high point of the story—the moment we've all been waiting for. The main conflict comes to a head, and the tension reaches its peak.
  • Falling Action: After the climax, the story begins to wind down. The aftermath of the climax is dealt with, and loose ends start to get tied up.
  • Resolution: The final piece of the puzzle. Here, conflicts are resolved, and the story comes to an end. This is where you get to breathe a sigh of relief—or shed a tear—for the characters you've grown to love.

Understanding these elements will help you when analyzing plot structure in novels, and they're a great starting point if you're crafting your own narrative. Remember, a solid plot structure can turn a good story into an unforgettable one. So grab your writer's hat, and let's dive deeper into the art of storytelling!

Classic plot structures

Let's move our focus to some of the most popular plot structures authors use to tell their tales. While there are countless ways to structure a plot, a few tried-and-true methods stand out. By analyzing these plot structures in novels, we can gain inspiration for our own storytelling.

  • The Three-Act Structure: This classic structure divides the story into three parts: Setup, Confrontation, and Resolution. It's like a play, with each act leading smoothly into the next. Many successful novels and movies use this structure—it's simple, yet incredibly effective.
  • The Hero's Journey: If you're a fan of epic adventures and transformation stories, you've likely come across this structure. The hero starts in their ordinary world, embarks on an extraordinary journey, faces numerous trials, and returns home transformed.
  • The Fichtean Curve: This plot structure is all about tension. It features a series of crises that escalate in intensity, with quieter periods in between for the reader to catch their breath. It's like a roller-coaster ride, filled with ups and downs that keep you hooked.
  • In medias res: Latin for "in the midst of things," this structure throws you directly into the action from the very first page. Backstory and exposition are revealed gradually through flashbacks or dialogue. It's a great way to grab your reader's attention from the get-go.

These are just a few examples of the many plot structures out there. By analyzing plot structures in novels, we can learn how to create compelling narratives that engage readers from start to finish. Remember, the right structure can make your plot shine, so don't be afraid to experiment and find the one that fits your story best!

How to choose the right plot structure for your novel

Choosing the right plot structure for your novel can be like picking out the perfect outfit—it needs to suit the occasion and reflect your unique style. When analyzing plot structure in novels, you need to consider various factors:

  • Genre: Some plot structures naturally fit certain genres. For example, the Hero's Journey is common in fantasy and adventure novels, while mystery novels often use a linear structure, gradually revealing clues to the reader.
  • Story Theme: The plot structure should echo the central theme of your story. If your novel is about a character's internal transformation, a structure like the Hero's Journey could work well.
  • Characters: Your characters' development and arcs can also dictate the structure. If you're telling a story from multiple perspectives, you might opt for a parallel structure to manage the different storylines.
  • Pacing: Want to keep readers on the edge of their seats? A structure with frequent climaxes, like the Fichtean Curve, can help maintain a fast pace. For a slower, more introspective novel, a linear or nonlinear structure might suit better.

There's no one-size-fits-all solution here. It might take a bit of trial and error before you find the perfect fit. But once you do, your plot will flow smoothly, and your readers won't be able to put your novel down. So, when analyzing plot structure in novels, remember to keep the big picture in mind. After all, the best plot structure is the one that serves your story.

How to outline a plot

Creating an outline for your novel is like drawing a map for a road trip. It helps you chart the course of your story and prevents you from taking unnecessary detours. Analyzing plot structure in novels begins with a clear, detailed outline. Here's a simple step-by-step guide to help you outline your plot:

  1. Start with a Hook: Begin your story with an exciting or intriguing event to capture the reader's interest. Think of it as the 'once upon a time' moment.
  2. Introduce the Characters: Give your readers a chance to get to know your characters. Include details about their personality, background, and motivations.
  3. Set Up the Conflict: Every plot revolves around a conflict or problem. It could be a personal struggle, a quest, or a mystery to solve. Make sure it's something that challenges your characters and drives the story forward.
  4. Develop the Plot: This is the heart of your story where your characters strive to overcome obstacles and achieve their goals. Break it down into key scenes or events to make it more manageable.
  5. Bring it to a Climax: The climax is the turning point of your story. It's the moment where the tension reaches its peak, and the outcome of the conflict is decided.
  6. Wrap it Up: After the dust settles from the climax, take some time to resolve any remaining issues and give your characters a chance to reflect on their journey.
  7. End with a Bang: Leave your readers with a final thought or impression that sums up the essence of your story. It's your 'happily ever after' or 'the end' moment.

Remember, an outline isn't set in stone. It's a guide that you can adjust and refine as you delve deeper into your story. The key to analyzing plot structure in novels is flexibility and creativity. So, grab your compass—or pen—and start charting your novel's journey today!

Plot Development Tips

Working on your plot can feel like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle. But don't fret! Here are some tips to help you make sense of the pieces and shape your plot effectively:

  1. Keep the Stakes High: High stakes make for an engaging plot. Ensure your characters have something significant to lose or gain. It doesn't have to be world-altering—it could be something deeply personal, like a relationship or a dream.
  2. Use Dramatic Irony: This is when the audience knows something the character doesn't. It's a fantastic tool for building suspense and tension.
  3. Surprise Your Readers: Unexpected twists and turns keep readers hooked. While outlining, think of ways you can surprise your readers. But remember, the surprise should make sense within the context of your story.
  4. Show, Don’t Tell: Instead of telling readers what's happening, show them. Use vivid descriptions and actions to convey emotions and events. It makes for a more immersive reading experience.
  5. Make Your Characters Work: Characters should struggle to achieve their goals. This struggle is what makes the story compelling. Easy victories can feel unsatisfying.
  6. Remember the Rule of Three: Things that come in threes are inherently more satisfying. Try to structure your plot around three dramatic events or turning points.

Remember, the goal of analyzing plot structure in novels is not to follow a formula, but to understand how stories work. Use these tips as a starting point, but don't be afraid to break the rules and experiment. After all, creativity is at the heart of storytelling.

What is a subplot and how to weave them into your plot

Have you ever watched a movie, read a book, or listened to a story where there's more than one storyline happening? That's where subplots come in. A subplot is a secondary storyline in a piece of fiction. It's like a mini-story within your main story. They add depth and complexity, provide relief from the main plot, and can help to further develop your characters and themes.

  1. Link to the Main Plot: Your subplot should have a clear connection to the main plot. It could be linked through a shared theme, location, or character. This creates a cohesive story where all parts feel relevant and connected.
  2. Make it Interesting: Just because it's secondary doesn't mean it should be boring. Your subplot should be interesting and engaging on its own. It can even offer a different tone or mood to provide contrast to the main plot.
  3. Use Subplots for Character Development: Subplots are a great place to explore your characters in more depth. You can reveal their motivations, backstories, and personal growth in a way that may not fit into the main plot.
  4. Resolve the Subplot: Just like the main plot, your subplot should have a beginning, middle, and end. Make sure to resolve it before the story ends. Leaving a subplot hanging can leave your readers feeling unsatisfied.

When analyzing plot structure in novels, don't overlook the importance of subplots. They can add richness and depth, making your story more engaging and satisfying to read. So, while you craft your main plot, remember to give some thought to your subplots too. They could just be the secret sauce your novel needs!

How to handle plot holes

You've probably come across the term 'plot holes' before. If you haven't, allow me to enlighten you. A plot hole is a gap or inconsistency in a storyline that contradicts the flow of logic established by the story's plot. These can include illogical or impossible events, and statements or events that contradict earlier events in the storyline.

When analyzing plot structure in novels, spotting plot holes is an important step. But how do you handle them once they've been identified? Here are some steps for you:

  1. Identify the Plot Hole: The first step in handling plot holes is to identify them. This involves going through your story carefully and noting down anything that doesn't make sense, contradicts earlier events, or seems implausible.
  2. Understand Its Impact: Once you've identified a plot hole, understand its impact on your story. Does it change the outcome of your plot? Does it affect a character's development? Understanding the impact can help you figure out how to address the plot hole.
  3. Fix It: Now comes the part where you fix the plot hole. This could involve rewriting parts of your story, changing a character's actions, or even adjusting your entire plot. The goal is to ensure that your story makes sense and flows smoothly.
  4. Check Your Work: After you've made your corrections, go through your story again to make sure you've successfully fixed the plot hole. It's also a good idea to have someone else read your work—they may spot something you missed.

Remember, nobody's perfect, and it's okay to have a few plot holes in your first draft. The key is to identify and fix them before your story reaches your readers. So, keep these tips in mind, and you'll be well on your way to creating a solid, well-structured plot for your novel.

How to keep plot interesting

Keeping a plot interesting is the lifeblood of any novel. An engaging plot draws readers in and keeps them hooked until the very end. But how do you ensure your plot stays interesting? Here are a few tips:

  1. Keep Things Moving: A stagnant plot is a surefire way to lose reader interest. Ensure your story is always progressing, whether it's through character development, plot twists, or new conflicts.
  2. Insert Conflict: Conflict is a key ingredient in an interesting plot. It can be internal—within a character's mind—or external—between characters or against nature, society, or technology. Conflict brings tension and suspense to a story, which can keep readers on their toes.
  3. Include Surprises: Surprise your readers. This could be a plot twist they didn't see coming, a character revealing an unexpected secret, or an unforeseen event changing the course of your plot. Surprises can shake up the story and rekindle the reader's interest.
  4. Develop Characters: Characters play a significant role in keeping a plot interesting. Develop your characters throughout the story. Let them grow, change, learn, and face challenges. Readers often get invested in characters and their journeys, which can keep them engaged in the plot.
  5. Use Descriptive Language: The way you describe settings, characters, and events can greatly influence how interesting your plot is. Use vivid, sensory language to paint a picture in the reader's mind and make your story more immersive.

When analyzing plot structure in novels, it's crucial to keep these points in mind. A well-structured, interesting plot can make your novel stand out and leave a lasting impression on your readers. So, don't be afraid to experiment and add elements that boost your plot's interest level.

How to write a plot twist

Plot twists: we love them, we hate them, but most importantly, we remember them. A well-executed plot twist can elevate your novel from good to unforgettable. But crafting a plot twist that's both surprising and satisfying isn't easy. So, how do you write a compelling plot twist? Here's how:

  1. Lay the Groundwork: A plot twist shouldn't come out of nowhere. It should be a surprise, yes, but it should also make sense within the context of your story. To achieve this, lay the groundwork for your twist by subtly planting clues and hints throughout your narrative.
  2. Make It Impactful: A great plot twist should have a significant impact on your story. It should change the course of the plot, alter the characters' goals or relationships, or reveal something shocking about a character or the world of your novel.
  3. Keep It Believable: While a plot twist should be surprising, it should also be believable. It needs to fit within the established rules of your story's world. If your twist feels too contrived or unrealistic, it might pull readers out of the story.
  4. Consider Timing: Timing is crucial when it comes to plot twists. Reveal your twist too early, and you might lose the element of surprise. Leave it too late, and it might feel rushed or unearned. Find the right balance to keep your readers engaged and on their toes.
  5. Make it Meaningful: A plot twist should do more than just shock your readers—it should also add depth to your story or characters. Whether it reveals a hidden motive, uncovers a secret past, or turns a friend into a foe, make sure your twist deepens the readers' understanding or changes their perspective on the story.

In the process of analyzing plot structure in novels, the plot twist plays a pivotal role. If executed well, it can flip your story on its head and leave your readers reeling—and eagerly turning the next page.

How to end a plot

Now we've arrived at the grand finale: ending your plot. Writing a satisfying ending is a bit like completing a puzzle. All the pieces you've been carefully setting up throughout your novel need to come together in a way that feels both surprising and inevitable. Here's how you can do it:

  1. Resolve the Conflict: The central conflict of your story should be resolved by the end of the novel. This doesn't necessarily mean a happy ending—it could be tragic or bittersweet—but it should feel like a logical outcome of the events and decisions that have unfolded.
  2. Show Character Growth: Your characters should grow or change in some way by the end of the story. This character arc can be a powerful tool for delivering a satisfying ending. It shows that the trials and tribulations your characters have gone through had a purpose and led to their evolution.
  3. Deliver a Payoff: Remember those clues, mysteries, and questions you've been sprinkling throughout your story? The end of your novel is the time to pay them off. Readers love it when an earlier detail or subplot becomes relevant or takes on new meaning in the final act.
  4. Leave Room for Reflection: After the climax of your story, give your characters—and your readers—a moment to reflect. This denouement, or winding down, is a chance to see how the events of the story have affected the characters and their world.
  5. End with a Resonating Image: The final scene or line of your novel should leave a lasting impression. It might call back to an earlier moment in the story, or it might leave readers with a provocative question or a poignant image.

Remember, when you're analyzing plot structure in novels, the ending is just as important as the beginning and the middle. It's your last chance to leave an impression on your reader, so make it count.

If you're eager to learn more about crafting compelling stories, be sure to check out Jessy Moussallem's workshop, 'Scriptwriting.' Although focused on scriptwriting, the principles and techniques discussed in this workshop can also be applied to mastering novel plot structures. Don't miss this opportunity to enhance your storytelling skills!