One of the five elements of a role-playing game in my book. The plot is built on two other elements RPG's - the game world (which includes non-player characters) and the player characters. A plot can be simple, like "the queen wants to hire your party to go retrieve a family heirloom that was stolen by a rival nation," or they can be hideously complex, and nothing is as it seems; each new piece of information leads to yet another plot line (see Tom Clancy and Robert Jordan). Each player has his or her own preferences for plot complexity, which may vary with time. As a general rule, the more complicated the plot, the better - most players like it when the plot thickens. The plot is the responsibility of the game master, in who's hands, plot devices are putty to be sculpted.


Other Literary Concepts:
Characterization | Alliteration | Repetition | Point of View | Irony | Connotation | Personification

The plot is the sequence of related events in a story. It consists of four parts that can be remembered by the mnemonic ECCR. In order, they are:

  1. Exposition: The exposition is the introduction. It introduces you to the characters and setting. It tells you about the conflict in the story.
  2. Complication: The complication appears quickly after the exposition. It makes up a significant part of any story, telling about the difficulties the characters face with resolving the conflict.
  3. Climax: The climax, which appears near the end, is usually the most interesting and exciting part of the story. In the climax, everything that the reader did not previously know is revealed. All the complications are fixed, and the conflict is resolved.
  4. Resolution: The resolution is what happens later, sort of as an afternote. In the resolution, most of the loose ends are tied up. If the author plans to write a sequel, many loose ends are left untied. Some stories, known as cliffhangers, all but lack a resolution.

Simply put, a plot is the series of events that make up a fictional story or novel.

My first really big epiphany with regard to plotting happened at the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Workshop, which I attended when I was finishing up college. Before that workshop, I'd been writing short stories and had sold one, but I had no clear idea of why my other stories weren't selling.

I'd taken a couple of creative writing courses in college, and the instruction there had focused largely on the quality of micro-writing (in other words, the prettiness of the prose style) and on things like dialog and theme and metaphor. All good stuff, but the fundamental mechanics of what makes a story a story were treated as something that just sort of happens.

During the week that author Joe Haldeman was teaching our Clarion class, he started talking about the five-point plot as it relates to short fiction. As he explained it (and you'll see different explanations around the Internet) this type of plot goes like so:

  1. You introduce your main character. He or she might not be likable, but he or she needs to be interesting.
  2. He or she has a problem that relates somehow to his or her character traits. This problem:
    • Means the protagonist wants something (an object, an achievement, an environmental change, a person, etc.) that he or she can't immediately get. Desire and drive are important here.
    • Needs to be revealed early on, preferably on the first page, ideally in the first paragraph.
  3. He or she tries to solve the problem ... and fails. Other complications arise due to the failure.
  4. He or she tries to solve the problem again, and fails or succeeds in a way that fits with his or her characterization and the themes of the story; for instance, if the story is a tragedy, the character will fail due to some tragic flaw in his or her personality. 
  5. In the wake of the protagonist's success or failure, he or she has experienced a meaningful change, and the story comes to a conclusion (denouement) that will be satisfying to the reader.

This, of course, is not the only way to structure the plot of a short story. But before Joe's discussion, nobody had ever showed me a story, popped the hood of the plot, and showed me how the story engine works. And having that explained was an enormous revelation! And it seemed so simple. And I finally realized why my stories weren't selling -- my prose style might have been decent enough and my characters sympathetic, but the plots needed serious overhauls. Sometimes, it was because I had a whole lot of action but no real character journey or change. Other times, I had a main character who passively allowed things to happen to him or her without having a real stake in what was going on. I got to work, and I sold a couple more stories.

Later, I got a second and equally big revelation from talking with Gary A. Braunbeck. He made me realize that good plots aren't prefabricated obstacle courses you march your characters through as though they're contestants in some game show. Your characters and their conflicts with each other have to create and drive the plot. But to fully understand the lessons Gary taught me, I first had to understand what Joe taught me. 

Since then, I've made over 100 short fiction sales in total, and I recently received the Bram Stoker Award for my short story "Magdala Amygdala". So, these were definitely lessons worth learning.

Plot (?), n. [AS. plot; cf. Goth. plats a patch. Cf. Plat a piece of ground.]


A small extent of ground; a plat; as, a garden plot.



A plantation laid out.


Sir P. Sidney.

3. Surv.

A plan or draught of a field, farm, estate, etc., drawn to a scale.


© Webster 1913.

Plot, v. t. [imp. & p. p. Plotted (?); p. pr. & vb. n. Plotting.]

To make a plot, map, pr plan, of; to mark the position of on a plan; to delineate.

This treatise plotteth down Cornwall as it now standeth. Carew.


© Webster 1913.

Plot, n. [Abbrev. from complot.]


Any scheme, stratagem, secret design, or plan, of a complicated nature, adapted to the accomplishment of some purpose, usually a treacherous and mischievous one; a conspiracy; an intrigue; as, the Rye-house Plot.

I have overheard a plot of death. Shak.

O, think what anxious moments pass between The birth of plots and their last fatal periods! Addison.


A share in such a plot or scheme; a participation in any stratagem or conspiracy.


And when Christ saith. Who marries the divorced commits adultery, it is to be understood, if he had any plot in the divorce. Milton.

<-- p. 101 -->


Contrivance; deep reach thought; ability to plot or intrigue.

[Obs.] "A man of much plot."



A plan; a purpose.

"No other plot in their religion but serve Got and save their souls."

Jer. Taylor.


In fiction, the story of a play, novel, romance, or poem, comprising a complication of incidents which are gradually unfolded, sometimes by unexpected means.

If the plot or intrigue must be natural, and such as springs from the subject, then the winding up of the plot must be a probable consequence of all that went before. Pope.

Syn. -- Intrigue; stratagem; conspiracy; cabal; combination; contrivance.


© Webster 1913.

Plot (?), v. i.


To form a scheme of mischief against another, especially against a government or those who administer it; to conspire.


The wicked plotteth against the just. Ps. xxxvii. 12.


To contrive a plan or stratagem; to scheme.

The prince did plot to be secretly gone. Sir H. Wotton.


© Webster 1913.

Plot, v. t.

To plan; to scheme; to devise; to contrive secretly.

"Plotting an unprofitable crime." Dryden. "Plotting now the fall of others."



© Webster 1913.

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