Inventing Reality: A Guide to Writing Science Fiction

Parts of a plot

Most stories unfold in the same way: the main character encounters a problem, he attempts in various ways to overcome the problem, and ultimately he succeeds.


For example, in the “Star Trek: The Original Series” episode “Devil in the Dark”, Captain Kirk faces the problem of stopping what appears to be a monster that is killing miners on the planet Janus VI. He attempts to solve the problem by hunting down the creature. He ultimately succeeds in stopping the murders by making contact with the creature and coming to an understanding of and agreement with it.

Of course, the plot of a story is more complicated than this. But the way action unfolds in most stories can be divided into distinct parts. Being aware of these parts can help you better develop a story.


There are five general parts of a plot:

n Inciting incident - During the first paragraphs of a story, the main character, the problem he faces and the setting is introduced. This part sometimes is referred to as the “introduction” or the "opening". In “Devil in the Dark,” we also learn that some of the miners doubt Kirk’s ability to solve the problem, which will complicate his efforts later in the episode.

n Rising action - The bulk of the story consists of the rising action, in which the main character attempts to solve his problem. He repeatedly fails, however, causing the situation becomes even more dire for him. This part also is known as the “complication”. During the hunt, Kirk loses a man, finds the station’s nuclear reactor pump has been stolen, almost dies during a cave-in and then is cornered by the creature.

n Climax - Ultimately, the main character solves the problem through some great, dramatic effort. Discovering the creature is intelligent, Kirk orders Spock to mind meld with the creature and Dr. McCoy to heal its wound; this allows Kirk and the creature (which calls itself a Horta) to come to an agreement: the miners will stop killing its young and it will stop killing the miners.

n Falling action - This extremely short section of the plot occurs immediately after the climax. It deals with the effects of the climax on the main character. Kirk now champions the Horta’s cause and stops the miners from attacking it.

n Denouement - The “conclusion” occurs in the last few sentences of the story. The loose ends of the story are tied up at this point. Back aboard their starship, Kirk, Spock and McCoy discuss (er, joke) about the philosophical implications of the Horta’s intelligence; we also learn that the miners and Horta are getting along fine.

You Do It

Look back at the piece you wrote for the "Main character" entry. Based on that problem that your main character faced, create an outline of a story that uses eachof the five parts of plot.