The 5 Essential Plot Elements Revealed: How To Use Plot To Craft a Compelling Tale

Ready to write a fantastic story? You need a great plot! Understanding the five plot elements will help you author a compelling story, leaving your readers wanting more.

Here’s everything you need to know about the five essential elements of plot.

What are the 5 Elements of Plot?

There are five basic plot elements:

  •       Exposition
  •       Rising action
  •       Climax
  •       Falling Action
  •       Conclusion

Each of these elements is crucial for successful storytelling. Here’s a short look at each one.


Exposition sets the scene. It gives readers (or viewers) an idea of what the story is about and any essential backstory.

The Star Wars series features one of movie history’s easiest-to-understand and compelling expositions. The stark introductory note, accompanied by giant scrolling yellow text, provides viewers with a critical backstory to the episode they’re about to view, allowing the opening scene to jump right into the action.

Rising Action

Think of rising action as building tension. Every story has tensions, from epic romances to fantasy quests. The tension lies in the unknown: what will happen next? How will they resolve the conflict?

The rising action is a great place to incorporate literary devices such as foreshadowing, which gives readers subtle clues as to what will happen without giving it away.


The rising action culminates in a massive release of tension with the climax. It’s the ultimate payoff. In action movies, the climax is the final showdown, but it can also be the moment a couple gets together in a romance or “moment we’ve all been waiting for” in a drama.

Climaxes don’t have to be about action, but they’re always the pivotal moment in any story.

Falling Action

The climax rarely relieves all the tension. Falling action lets its last lingering drops slowly flow away, allowing the user to come down from the anxious high they experienced during the climax.


Conclusions wrap stories up in neat little bows. Of course, that’s no fun, and many writers choose to leave their tales more open-ended, but typically, a conclusion will offer some closure, whether it’s what the audience expected or not.

Films from the 1980s were notorious for offering great conclusions by giving a short blurb about each character’s life after the movie’s events. However, endings don’t need to be that tidy. 

The end can harbor new beginnings, like a wedding, or conclude a battle, although the war is far from over.

Can You Skip a Plot Element?

Some stories seem to skip exposition, diving right into the action. Others end abruptly, seeming to lack any solid conclusion.

Although authors may choose to omit one of these elements for tension (for example, setting something up for a sequel or using a cliffhanger), most complete stories include all five plot elements, even if they’re difficult to distinguish.

Plot Elements in Short Stories

Even the shortest stories showcase the five plot elements. Take, for example, the shortest story ever told. According to legend, Hemmingway made a bet that he could make folks cry with a short story comprising only six words.

“For sale, baby shoes, never worn.”

Each of the five plot elements features in these short six words, and they also showcase how the plot elements can flow through a story rather than happen sequentially.

The exposition sets the stage with a sale. In the rising action, you discover that the baby’s shoes feature in the sale, while in the epic climax, you realize that the child has passed. The falling action brings us back to the sale, while the parents get closure by letting go of the goods.

Plot Elements Diagram

Here’s a simple diagram showcasing how the plot elements work together to create a great story. The pyramid shape showcases the relationship between rising action, climax, and falling action. The chart also serves as a plot diagram worksheet that you can print out and use to build the key components of your story. 

Plot elements diagram worksheet.
Created in Canva by Partners in Fire.

Non-Linear Plot Elements

Though most plot element diagrams show a linear progression from exposition to conclusion, some elements blur the lines a little.

Of course, the rising action has to come before the climax, and the falling action must come after, but exposition can happen throughout a story.

A character may provide some backstory halfway through the rising action, or the writer may use flashback, allowing the reader to glimpse what came before.

Many of the most compelling literary tales have stories within stories. While one character’s arc concludes, another is just beginning. Plot elements of the side quests and hidden stories intertwine as the main story progresses.

Story Elements vs. Plot Elements

Although the plot is a story element, plot and story elements aren’t the same. Story elements, also called literary elements, are the building blocks of a story, while plot elements are the building blocks of the plot.

Plot is an essential feature of every story, but not the only component. Nothing happens if you don’t have characters to complete the action and a place for it to happen. People can’t enjoy the story without a narrator to tell it. Every story element plays a crucial role in bringing the tale together. 

How to Develop Your Plot

Plot development is one of the most complex parts of crafting a story because it seems so easy. Most writers already have an idea about what happens, so they focus on that rather than developing their plot structure and determining exactly where each part of their story fits into the plot diagram.

Here are essential tips that will help you develop your plot.

Use an Outline

Start simple. Use a diagram to identify your basic storyline. Your plot outline will showcase the narrative arc for your main character.

Once you have the major plot points on your diagram, you can start plotting the side quests, turning points, and other significant milestones.

 The diagram will help you visualize you’re character’s journey from start to finish.

Sample plot outline using fishbone diagram showing the essential elements of plot from exposition to conclusion.
Sample plot diagram created in Canva by Partners in Fire.

Consider the Sequence of Events

When making your plot outline, you must consider what happens, when it happens, and how it affects things that occur in the future. Your sequence of events plots the course of when everything happens on your diagram.

Your outline should showcase the sequence of events chronologically and run through the basic plot elements from exposition to conclusion.

Decide Your Story Structure

Though your diagram showcases your plot progression in chronological order, your story does not have to follow that order.

You can use flashback, exposition, backstory, multiperspectivity, or other literary techniques to change the flow and keep readers engaged.

Appropriate Pacing

Writing a novel takes finesse. You must tell the tale in such a way that you build suspense without taking too long or giving away the plot.

Proper pacing is critical to a great story.

Avoid overly detailed explanations of things that don’t matter, but take your time reaching the climax, allowing viewers to enjoy the ride. Proper pacing is an art rather than a science, crucial to a good story.

How To Be a Better Writer

An idea is a small piece of the writer’s puzzle. Ideas are a dime a dozen, but proper execution makes a great story.

Here are some ways to improve your writing ability and turn your excellent plot idea into a fantastic tale.

Use Prompts

Creative writing prompts can give you the imaginative boost you need to write an epic tale. Sometimes, we get stuck on an idea and must reset our minds with something completely new. Prompts force us to use language in new ways and to rethink our biases when telling a story.

Show, Don’t Tell

Writers often rush through exposition, allowing a character to explain backstory rather than showing it. That’s a mistake.

Show, don’t tell, is one of the most crucial rules of literature. Don’t have a character explain something when you can show them doing it.

Hemingway’s short story example provides an excellent example of show, don’t tell. He didn’t have to say the baby passed, and he didn’t have to mention the parent’s closure. All this is captured in the simple action of putting the never-worn shoes up for sale.

Move the Story Forward

Sometimes, writers get stuck and don’t know how to move forward. Though breaks in the action help build suspense and backstory, some authors get stuck in the gap and don’t seem to understand how to move the story forward.

A plot diagram is essential for keeping your tale moving. If you find yourself stuck, return to your chart to rethink your sequence of events.

Tie Up Loose Ends

People hate stories that leave too many pieces dangling. Unless you know you’ll make a sequel that will address the loose ends, tie them up at the conclusion of your story.

Make sure you didn’t introduce something you have no way of resolving.

Avoid Jumping the Shark

Speaking of resolutions, sometimes writers introduce fantastical ideas that don’t fit into their story’s world. They don’t know how to end it, so they use a crazy plot device that magics the problem away.

These stories incite rage in readers, who feel duped after investing so much time in the conflict. The payoff isn’t worthwhile.

Write and Revise

The first draft is never good enough. Don’t be afraid to rewrite and revise your tale repeatedly. 

A first draft gets the idea down on paper, but the actual story appears during the revision process.

Plot Elements Essential for Compelling Story

Learning how to write a plot is essential to writing an epic story. Aspiring writers must return to the basics and ensure they include each plot element in their tale.

Once the story’s plot is mapped out, they can get creative with prose, subplots, enhanced literary techniques, and all the flair that makes a story great.

None of that is possible without the narrative framework of a good plot.