Screenwriting Blog
Posted on by Courtney Meznarich

Plot Diagram — Definition, Elements, & Examples

Hello, fellow storytellers! Today we're going to delve into the heart of storytelling structure: the plot diagram. This handy tool is like a roadmap for your story, guiding you through the twists and turns of your narrative. It's an essential part of the storytelling process, helping writers to craft compelling narratives that captivate readers or viewers from start to finish. So, buckle up and let's get started!

Plot Diagram — Definition, Elements, & Examples

What is a Plot Diagram?

A plot diagram, also known as a story arc, is a visual tool that maps out the structure of a story. Imagine it as a line graph, with the story's beginning on the far left, progressing towards the right, and culminating with the story's conclusion.

This diagram is not just a flat line, though. It's a dynamic, undulating path that reflects the ups and downs of your story's events. It's a tool that allows both writers and readers to visualize the key features of stories, making it an invaluable asset for creative writing and literary analysis alike.

But what does this mean in practical terms? How does a plot diagram actually work? Let's delve a little deeper.

The Anatomy of a Plot Diagram

A plot diagram is essentially a graphical representation of the plot of a story. It's a way of visually organizing the events of a story in a way that makes the narrative structure clear and easy to understand.

The plot diagram is usually depicted as a pyramid or a mountain, with the story's events plotted along the vertical axis and the progression of time along the horizontal axis. This gives you a clear visual representation of the story's structure, allowing you to see at a glance how the events of the story unfold and how they relate to each other.

The Purpose of a Plot Diagram

So, why use a plot diagram? Well, it's all about structure and understanding. A plot diagram helps you to organize your thoughts, plot points, and ideas in a clear, visual way. It allows you to see the bigger picture of your story, identify any gaps or inconsistencies, and ensure a balanced and engaging narrative.

But the benefits of a plot diagram extend beyond mere organization. It's also a powerful tool for understanding the underlying mechanics of a story. By mapping out the plot structure, you can gain a deeper understanding of how different elements of the story interact and how they contribute to the overall narrative.

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The Five Sections of a Plot Diagram

A plot diagram is typically divided into five sections, each representing a different stage in the story. These stages are the exposition, conflict, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. Let's break them down:


The exposition is where your story begins. It sets the stage by introducing the setting, mood, main character, supporting characters, and time. This is where you start to build your world and give your readers the context they need to understand the rest of the story.

But the exposition is more than just a simple introduction. It's also an opportunity to hook your readers and draw them into your story. By crafting a compelling exposition, you can pique your readers' interest and make them eager to find out what happens next.

In a screenplay, the exposition is the movie’s baseline. This is the world where your character currently exists in their “normal” environment. And as you probably know, that “normal” environment eventually needs to be shaken up with a conflict.


Next comes the conflict. This is the problem, crisis, or obstacle that your main character must face. It's the driving force of your story, the thing that propels your character into action and keeps your readers hooked.

The conflict is what gives your story its edge. It's the source of tension and drama, the challenge that your main character must overcome. By creating a compelling conflict, you can keep your readers engaged and invested in your story.

Rising Action

The rising action is where things start to heat up. It's a series of events that build tension and challenge your main character as they try to resolve the conflict. This is where your story's momentum really starts to build.

The rising action is all about escalation. It's about raising the stakes and increasing the pressure on your main character. By crafting a compelling rising action, you can keep your readers on the edge of their seats, eagerly anticipating what will happen next.


The climax is the turning point of your story, the moment of highest tension and excitement. It's where the main character confronts the conflict head-on and the outcome of the story is decided.

The climax is the culmination of all the tension and conflict that has been building up throughout the story. It's the moment when everything comes to a head, when the main character must make a crucial decision or take a decisive action. By crafting a powerful climax, you can deliver a satisfying payoff for your readers and make your story truly memorable.

Falling Action

After the climax comes the falling action. This is where the consequences of the climax play out, and the story begins to wind down. It's a time for reflection and understanding, as the main character and the readers alike grapple with the changes that have occurred. The characters are now adjusting to their “new normal.”

The falling action is all about resolution. It's about tying up loose ends and setting the stage for the story's conclusion. By crafting a thoughtful falling action, you can give your readers a chance to catch their breath and reflect on the events of the story.


Finally, we reach the resolution. This is where all the loose ends are tied up, and the story comes to a satisfying conclusion. It's the final note in your symphony, the last piece of the puzzle that brings everything together.

The resolution is your chance to leave a lasting impression on your readers. It's your opportunity to give your story a satisfying ending, to wrap up all the storylines and character arcs in a way that feels fulfilling and complete.

Crafting Your Story with a Plot Diagram

Now that we've broken down the elements of a plot diagram, it's time to put them into action. Whether you're crafting a short story, a novel, or a screenplay, a plot diagram can be an invaluable tool to help you structure your narrative quickly and keep your readers engaged from start to finish.

Examples of a Plot Diagram

Here’s a blank plot diagram you can use to create your own story, courtesy of

A plot diagram looks like this, with exposition, conflict, rising action, climax, fall action, and resolution. Use a plot diagram to help chart your story!

Now, let's take "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone," "The Lion King," and "Star Wars: A New Hope" as examples.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Written by J.K. Rowling
Screenplay written by Steve Kloves

  • Exposition

    Harry Potter, an orphan, lives with his abusive relatives until he discovers he's a wizard on his 11th birthday.

  • Conflict

    Harry learns that he is famous in the wizarding world for surviving an attack by the dark wizard Voldemort, who killed his parents but mysteriously disappeared after failing to kill Harry.

  • Rising Action

    Harry attends Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, makes friends, learns about magic, and discovers the mystery of the Philosopher's Stone.

  • Climax

    Harry confronts Professor Quirrell, who is possessed by Voldemort, to prevent him from getting the Philosopher's Stone.

  • Falling Action

    Harry defeats Quirrell/Voldemort and saves the Philosopher's Stone.

  • Resolution

    Harry returns to his relatives for the summer, but now he has friends and looks forward to returning to Hogwarts.

The Lion King

Screenplay written by Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts, and Linda Woolverton

  • Exposition

    Simba, a young lion prince, is born in the Pride Lands of Africa.

  • Conflict

    Simba's evil uncle Scar murders Simba's father, Mufasa, and convinces Simba that he is to blame.

  • Rising Action

    Simba runs away and grows up in the jungle with Timon and Pumbaa, adopting a carefree lifestyle.

  • Climax

    Simba is convinced to return to the Pride Lands, confront Scar, and reclaim his rightful throne.

  • Falling Action

    Simba battles Scar, who is eventually killed by the hyenas.

  • Resolution

    Simba takes his rightful place as king and the circle of life continues.

Star Wars: A New Hope

Written by George Lucas

  • Exposition

    Luke Skywalker, a farm boy on Tatooine, dreams of becoming a pilot and escaping his mundane life.

  • Exposition

    Luke comes into possession of two droids carrying secret plans to defeat the evil Galactic Empire.

  • Rising Action

    Luke learns the ways of the Force from Obi-Wan Kenobi, joins the Rebel Alliance, and embarks on a mission to rescue Princess Leia.

  • Climax

    Luke participates in a crucial battle against the Empire, aiming to destroy the Death Star.

  • Falling Action

    With guidance from Obi-Wan's spirit and using the Force, Luke successfully destroys the Death Star.

  • Resolution

    Luke, Leia, and Han Solo celebrate their victory over the Empire.

Please note that these are simplified versions of the plot diagrams and the actual stories contain many more subplots and complexities.

Remember, a plot diagram is not a rigid formula, but a guide. It's there to help you understand the natural flow of a story and to ensure that your narrative has all the necessary elements to captivate your audience. So, start diagramming, and let your creativity flow!

That's all for today, storytellers. Until next time, keep writing, keep dreaming, and keep creating compelling stories!

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