The plot pyramid is the first of a myriad of structures used to outline a story. We learn it naturally in our childhood in classic tales that have been passed on for generations. In seventh grade, students learn the plot pyramid structure. Because academic English education relies on a keen familiarity with the plot pyramid, I teach my emerging authors to apply the plot pyramid as a tool for outlining their novels.
The Six Elements of the Plot Pyramid
Six elements build the basic plot pyramid: exposition, the inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.
Exposition: introduces the character and the setting
Inciting Incident: the conflict that sets the premise for the story
Rising Action: a series of attempts to resolve the conflict. Along the way, the character learns it isn’t as easy as it seems. It is a try-fail, or try-false success, back to try-fail pattern.
Climax: culmination of the tension and the last of the try fail sequences. When we reach the climax of the story, the character’s success is forthcoming.
Falling Action: The fallout from the climax settles. The character is coming to terms with all that has transpired.
Resolution: The character (or the reader) comes to terms with the problem and the solution.
Applying the Plot Pyramid to Something Familiar
As I mentioned earlier, the plot pyramid follows the natural storytelling method. Let’s apply it to Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
Exposition: Goldilocks is a little girl who is wandering in the forest
Inciting Incident: She is tired and hungry, so she goes inside the bears’ house. Note the natural Somebody Wants But So (SWBS) explanation.
Rising Action I: She tests the chairs. Note the try- fail-succeed sequence until she finds the one that is “just right.”
Rising Action II: She eats the porridge. Again, we have a try-fail-succeed sequence until she finds the bowl that is “just right.”
Rising Action III: She tests the beds. Again the try-fail-succeed sequence. By now we know where this is going.
Rising Action IV: The bears come home and find their house has been destroyed. See how the suspense is culminating to a build.
Climax: The bears confront Goldilocks
Falling Action: Goldilocks runs away
Resolution: Goldilocks is fine, and the bears have their home
Outlining with the Plot Pyramid Structure
At the time of this writing, my students are in full-blown NanoWrimo prep. When we start our outlines we create a basic plot structure for their stories. We start with a phrase to flesh out their inciting incident and a resolution. From there, we work our way to the middle. By the end of the lesson, the kids should have a firm story in their minds.
At this stage, we only want the plot points: The characters, a basic setting; the character’s problem; how the character attempts to resolve this problem; and the perceived ending. I warn them and you, characters have been known to contradict the attempts and throw something new into the story. But that’s what makes storytelling fun. It’s an adventure for the author and reader.
With that being said, I’ll share a couple of spoilers:
- The next day they’ll complete an SWBS for each element.
- Each element will be a chapter of their NanoWrimo novels
- This process can be done for the antagonist and the protagonist.
Like I mentioned earlier, there are several strategies to outline a plot. However, for the first-time novelist, especially young ones, this is the easiest way to take a story from a vague idea to a concept they can share with the world.
I hope this bit of advice helps.
Until the next note,