Some Useful Plot Structure Definitions

When I first found my way back to writing after putting it aside for far too long (during my entire twenties and thirties), I discovered a whole world of “writing terms” that I’d never heard when I wrote as a young girl and teen.

As a reader (and a woman with two degrees in English and Lit), I intuitively knew what these terms were, but putting them together in a story created a whole new challenge. When I’m plotting, I keep them handy. When I’m drafting, sometimes I keep them in mind, but other times, I listen to my muse and just write.

As writers, they’re helpful to know. This list is far from comprehensive, but I’ve included the plotting terms I find most helpful.

Plotting Definitions

Narrative Arc

The narrative arc is that little graphic you learned in 10th grade English: introduction, conflict, rising action, climax, falling action. That’s it. It’s basic story structure. You can break it down into greater detail (see terms below) but the narrative arc is basically story structure. You have a character with a goal and something stopping them from getting their goal. Shit happens. They either reach or they don’t, but in either case, they’re a changed person as a result of their journey.


  • A premise is your entire plot line in a single sentence or two. It has an interesting idea and identifies the main character, the conflict, and the stakes for your main character. It shapes all of your ideas into a road map or guideline for your novel. When people ask you what your story is about, you most likely give them the premise.
    • An example premise for The Fault in Our Stars might be: Hazel, a teen with terminal cancer, decides her life is worth fighting for and living because she falls in love with Augustus, another teen with cancer, but his cancer comes back.

Act I

  • Act I is the first quarter of your novel (or about 25%), ending with plot point one. This is the part that draws your reader into your story, and it must include some key components:
    • Characters – Who is this story about? Introduce the main characters, both the protagonist and antagonist, as well as any important secondary characters.
    • Setting – Where is your story taking place?
    • Major Conflict – What is the overall story problem?

The Hook

  • The hook is at the beginning of your story, catches your reader’s attention, and makes them ask questions. It’s that opening image or event that draws your reader into the story. It introduces your character, what kind of person they are, where they are, and hints at the overall plot of the story.

Inciting Incident

  • This is the event that thrusts your character out of their normal world and into the world of your story. It happens about halfway through the first Act.

Plot Point One

  • The first Act ends with the First Plot Point which thrusts your character irrevocably into the story’s action. New information is revealed that launches the main character on their journey. Your character cannot go back to life as they knew it after this event because they react to it in such a way that their life is irrevocably changed. This is often an unwelcome event or change in their life, but not always. It sets everything else in motion and may also foreshadow events to come and set up the premise for the entire story. We begin to understand what’s at stake for the main character.

Act II

  • Act II is the bulk of your story. It’s roughly from the 25% point to the 75% point. In the traditional plot chart, this is the “rising action.” It is where your protagonist has all of their conflicts and problems. But Act II is also broken down into two halves.

Pinch Point One

  • This happens in the first part of Act II. The antagonist displays his power forcing the main character to react to them.

Mid-point or turning point

  • This is right about halfway through the story and is the point where the main character begins to take action and exert control over their situation and their life. They see the truth about their situation and begin to understand that they really do need to continue on to achieve their goals. They stop reacting to everything you’ve thrown at them and start taking action to solve their problem or reach their goals.

Pinch Point Two

  • Here comes the awful antagonist again. He’s back and stronger than ever, and your protagonist will hit a low point.


  • Act III is the final 20%-30% of your story. It includes the protagonist taking major action to overcome his final obstacle. This moment is the climax or confrontation and often has some new surprises. This act has progressively increasing tension and the pacing speeds up. Usually the protagonist will come out on top as he has successfully managed to solve his own problem. The last part of Act III is the resolution

Plot Point Three

  • This is the final major plot point before we begin heading toward the climax, and this is where the protagonist seems utterly defeated. Despite all that they have done, no matter how far they’ve come, here is where they seem to hit the wall.


  • The climax generally begins near the 90% mark of your story and will prove, without a doubt, that yes, your character has come a long way. This is the BIG MOMENT when you really test your character. Have they changed at all? Are they ready for their big moment? It will resolve the primary conflict, and it will hopefully do so without being completely predictable.


  • These are the last few scenes of your story following the climax. The story is essentially over, so it ties up all the loose ends and sub-plots.

In the comments below, share the “writerly concept” you find most helpful when drafting your stories.


  1. Kathy Steinemann on January 12, 2018 at 5:46 am

    Thanks for this breakdown, Amy. It reminds me of parsing a sentence. Parsing a novel’s structure will help writers plan their first drafts.

  2. Amy Isaman on January 12, 2018 at 3:43 pm

    You are so welcome! Having a breakdown like this next to me when I write always helps me to keep structure in mind.

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