Climbing the Plot Pyramid

by Leigh Holland

Plot is, simply put, the cause and effect relationship between events in your story. Much has been designed and written regarding plot structure and formula plot writing. In this segment, we’re covering the basics of plot structure for novella to novel length stories.

Some of the earliest advice on plot structure comes from Aristotle, who believed that “mythos” or “plot” was the most important element in dramatic writing. He believed it was more important than character; although my advice is to weave these two together closely as you develop your theme. Aristotle also identified certain genres based on the emotions they must evoke, such as tragedy and comedy, and defined the plot structure of any dramatic work as having three essential parts: the set-up, the confrontation, and the resolution.

An avid student of Aristotle’s tragedy plot theory, Gustav Freytag developed “Freytag’s Pyramid”, a five act plot structure still taught in schools and writing courses today.


  1. Exposition- introduces the main characters, including the protagonist, their morals, goals, and motives.
  2. Rising Action- Conflict begins among them after their motives are introduced. An incitement causes the conflict, such as a theft or murder, for example. This spurs the protagonist into action.
  3. Climax- The hero makes a decision that alters the story and quite possibly himself.
  4. Falling Action- Our hero has made his plans and is acting on them. We are leading the story to its end.
  5. Denouement- “Tying Up” in French- this is the end of the story where all loose ends are dealt with and the ending revealed.

Steps of the Pyramid in Four Dramatic Acts (For an estimated 350-400 page novel)

Percentage/Pages Event Dramatic Section Act
0% to 5%/0-20 pages Plot Hook Stasis I
10% to 15%/20-40 pages Incitement Trigger I
20 to 25%/80-100 pages Key Event Trigger to Act I
25% to 30%/100-120 pages First Major Plot Point New Situation II
38-40%/140-160 pages First Pinch Point Rising Stakes II
50%/180-200 pages Midpoint/Second Major Plot Point Complications III
60%-65%/220-250 pages Second Pinch Point Reversal III
75%/280-300 pages Third Major Plot Point Transition to Critical Choice IV
85%-90%/330-360 pages Climax Critical Choice IV
90%-100%/360-400 pages Denouement Resolution IV

A Few Definitions

  • Plot Hook- A literary device that grabs the reader’s attention so they will keep reading.
  • Stasis- This section of the story explains things as they are prior to
  • Incitement- This is an event that breaks the main character from their stasis. This can change things around your main character.
  • Key Event- An event that moves the main character from stasis into action.
  • Plot Point- An important event that changes the direction of the story.
  • Pinch Point- A point in the story during which the protagonist’s goals are stymied or delayed, especially by the antagonist or antagonistic force of the story.
  • Rising Stakes- The main character wants something and they are in danger of not getting what they want. The stakes are the results should the main character not get what they want.

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