1. Plot Line: a graph plotting the ups and downs of the central character's fortunes. A very conventional plot might look like the one above.
2. Initial Situation
i. Characters: Who are the central characters? What do they aspire to? ii. Setting: Where/when do the characters live? Does the setting contribute to the narrative? iii. Conflicts: What are the challenges facing the protagonist(s)? What are the conflict(s) that he or she (or they) will have to overcome?
The beginning is often called the introduction or exposition. By establishing the characters, setting and initial conflicts, the beginning "sets the scene" for the rest of the narrative. Dickens' famous opening line in A Tale of Two Cities, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times," is a classic piece of exposition that helps establish the social and political background of the novel.
3. Incentive Moment:
i. Which event thrusts itself into the tension of the characters' situation and triggers the action of the story? A new event frequently jostles the smoothness of things and changes the course of action.
4. Episodes: After the introduction, a story usually presents a series of separate events in the plot, building from one situation to the next. A new episode (or scene) begins when the place and time change, or when something really important interrupts what has been happening. With each successive episode, the conflict becomes more and more intense, demanding some sort of resolution.
5. Climax: the critical point at which the central character is about to win or lose all. When the probable outcome of the main conflict is finally revealed (i.e. the turning point), the story has reached its climax. In a Shakespearian tragedy, the climax occurs when the main character's "momentum" switches from success to failure. Beyond that point, the ending is inevitable. However, the climax does not mark the end of conflict; it only determines how the conflict will be decided. The climax usually occurs anywhere from 50% to 90% of the completed story.