“The plot thickens.” It is a famous quote made famous by the fact that good literature must have a well-devised plot. But what is plot anyway? Excellent question! And in honor of National Novel Writing Month (see http://nanowrimo.org), I will answer it.
Plot is the progression of a story, and it is composed of six parts. The first part is the exposition, which exposes the situation and characters to be developed. The exposition should be quickly followed by the hook, the circumstance that engages readers, making them want to keep reading. In a brief legend about a door, the exposition and hook might be something like this:
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there was a door. For as long as anyone remembered, the door had remained tightly closed, and no efforts of man could open it.
Readers know from this that the door is central to what will happen and are (hopefully) intrigued by the door’s mysterious state. After the hook comes the rising action, the events that gradually build in intensity to lead readers further into the story. The rising action ends with the story’s climax, the most important moment that forces a decision to be made, turning the story one way or another. In our door legend, the rising action and climax could go as follows:
Certainly, men had tried to open the door. In fact, it was rather a rites of passage endeavor that every young man in the kingdom valiantly attempt to pry the door from its secured positioned. Children sometimes lined up, the first holding to the door’s handle and each one after holding to the other as they chanted, "Hold fast the door! Loose its lock! With all your might, 1, 2, 3, plop!"—whereupon they fell to the ground in a laughing heap before jumping up and scampering away to their next adventure.
Of course, some in the kingdom feared the door. Stories spread that it led to realms of the dark world that snuffed out the light in a person's soul...or that it guarded the tomb of an ancient enemy of such vile nature that a curse had been placed upon his deathbed to entrap his spirit, lest it slip from Hades back into the earth. One myth claimed the door could only be opened by the one whose heart was pure and that others who dared to touch it risked the true state of their hearts being revealed, imprinted upon their skin for all to see.
Whatever its secrets, the door kept them steadfastly...until, one day, a girl passed by and found the door ajar. She stopped, breath catching in her throat, heart fluttering. A quiet thing, the girl was far more timid than brave at heart, but something within her longed to know the truth of the door—as if knowing who she herself was depended upon discovering that truth. Slowly, she crept toward the door, glancing nervously about.
As she stood before the opening, nothing but darkness visible, fright turned her heartbeats into wild discordance. She knew, of course, that to venture through the door alone—into an unknown—was foolish. Something sinister could be present in there, waiting for her. It would be far wiser to pass by the open door, to take the news of its open state to those in authority—or to at least go home and fetch a lantern whereby to light her path through the black of dark inside.
"But what if the door closes while I'm gone? What if this is the only moment to go through it?"
Her whole frame trembling, the girl stepped inside—just as a boy skipped past and caught glimpse of the open door for himself. He halted, mind reeling with every story he'd ever heard of the evils that lay behind that door. Terrified, he ran to the door and pushed it closed.
Hearing the door slam, the girl jumped so violently she felt as if her breath and blood had jolted out of her. She stood absolutely still, then turned toward the door behind her. Closed did not mean locked. It wasn't certain she was trapped in here. Feeling dizzy from the fear swirling within her, she knelt down, clutching her bowed head.
What will she do? That is the decision that must be made. At this point, the story is close to its conclusion. All that remains is a short portion of the plot called the falling action and then the resolution. Falling action includes what happens after the climax—which direction the story consequently goes; and resolution, appropriately, resolves the story: Determinedly, if somewhat unsteadily, the girl stood to her feet. And facing away from the door, she started on her journey.
Of course, in this instance, the resolution might leave us at the end of our story—if we consider the girl’s decision to go forward sufficient conclusion. Or it might set us at the beginning of the girl’s tale…in which case, the plot thickens. (Oh, that was ornery of me!)
Christa is the Head of the Young People's Department. She came to the library with a background in education, having spent ten years as a teacher, and believes firmly in the Young People's Department vision, "Libraries=education--empowering minds through creative investigation."