Elements of Fiction: Structure



Every story needs a sequence of incidents and events, consisting of a beginning, a middle, a climax, and ending – places along the way where characters can hang their hopes, frustrations, dreams, joy, etc. The plot is the skeleton that holds all the details together and pushes the story to its conclusion. The structure of the traditional story can be charted as follows:

Beginning Rising action Climax Epiphany Falling Action Resolution/Dénouement



Establishing a stunning beginning is very important because the opening must involve your readers immediately. How many stories have you started to read, only to put down them down because the openings left you unengaged? Some tips for a strong beginning: as a general rule, try to avoid openings with pronouns, articles, pedestrian summary, passive verbs, and/or abstractions. Strong openings include vivid concrete language, active verbs, and/or surprising summary. Sometimes, writers choose to open with dialogue, which can be very effective.

Edwidge Danticat’s opening in “Night Women” seems particularly strong:

I cringe from the heat of the night on my face. I feel as bare as open flesh. Tonight I am much older than the twenty-five years that I have lived. The night is the time I dread most in my life. Yet if I am to live, I must depend on it. (From Danticat’s Krik? Krak? [83]) 

Also consider the opening sentence in Marly Swick’s story “The Other Widow”:

In the two months since David’s sudden death, Lynne has stopped eating, started wearing nothing but black, and found herself a therapist in the Yellow Pages. (From The Summer Before the Summer of Love: Stories by Marly Swick). 

From that one sentence, what do you already know about Lynne?


Rising action

After a writer introduces the story, he/she builds up suspense, also called rising action, until the story reaches its climax (turning or high point).



The climax is simply a turning or high point in the plot. For the “artist” in Franz Kafka’s “A Hunger Artist,” the climax occurs when the protagonist is at the prime of his career; spectators flock to his cage and admire him. The conflict comes only later when the public grows bored and rejects his art.



When the protagonist experiences an epiphany, he/she discovers something important about him/her/themself. No need to use the flash of insight method so famous in 19th and early 20th century fiction. An epiphany can whisper its message to the protagonist. For example, Lynne, in “The Other Widow,” realizes that she will never know if David, her dead lover, had ever intended to leave his wife for her; with this new knowledge, Lynn can (and does) move on with her life.


Falling action

After the turning point, the action begins to wind down toward the resolution, thus falling action.



For the most part, the conflict of the story needs to be resolved (not necessarily solved – know the difference between these two words).

However, some modern writers may opt for intermediate endings, in which the main conflict is never really solved or resolved – very much like real life.

Some modern writers incorporate less traditional story structures and with some modicum of success. However, this is the exception.

In the end, readers prefer a traditional structure in their fiction because it offers a complete and definitive package.



More Elements of Fiction:

Elements of Fiction: Characterization 

Elements of Fiction: Point of View 

Elements of Fiction: Story Structure

Elements of Fiction: Other Elements

Elements of Fiction: Building a Character (Character List)





Jennifer's Cloud

Angela's Ashes Anger Anne Bernays Antagonist Apollo 8 Articles and Resources Banner Credit Beginning Bio Blogs Call for "Why I Write" Essays Call for Submissions Catholic Church Character List Characterization Cherokee Iowa Cherokee Mental Institute Climax Conflict Contact Contact Jen Contact Jennifer Controversy Creative Writing Curriculum Vitae CV: Education CV: Employment CV: Honors and Awards CV: Offices and Memberships CV: Professional Activities CV: PUblications Cyril and Methodius University of Skopje Description Details Dialogue Drama Dramady Dynamic Characters Earth Earthrise Elements of Fiction Elements of Fiction: Character List Elements of Fiction: Characterization Elements of Fiction: Other Elements Elements of Fiction: Point of View Elements of Fiction: Structure Elements of Nonfiction Epiphany Essay Essay Review Essays Falling Action Family Drama Family Reunion Fiction Fiction Review Fiction: Peer or Self Review of a Short Story Fire First Person Formal Essay Frank McCourt Free Verse Fulbright Scholar General Guidelines for Peer Reviewing Creative Works Ghosts Hey Hey little trollie Hippies Homelessness Humor Informal Essay Involuntary Commitment Iowa Ironclad Rules Ironclad Rules for Creative Writing Jeff Jeffer Jeffer.co Jeffer.me Jennifer Jennifer Semple Siegel Jennifer's Blogs Jennifer's Books Jennifer's Sites Jennifer's Story Journal Journaling Journaling or Memoiring: Private Vs. Public Writing Letters Long Short Story Love Made-up Words marriage Memoir Memoir Madness: Driven to Involuntary Commitment Memoir Review Memoirist Memoirs Mental Institutions Messages Monologue My Fiction My Name is (Also) Jeffer Name Names Narrative Nonfiction NASA Non-fiction Non-fiction Review Non-fiction: Self or Peer Review of a Personal Essay or Memoir nonfiction North Macedonia Not-so-great Poetry Objective Point of View Objective POV Objective Viewpoint Obsessions Pamela Painter Peer Review Pems Personal Essay Photo Credit – NASA Play Plot Poem Poems Poetry Poetry review Poetry: How Not to Send Out a Poem Poetry: Self or Peer Review of a Poem Point of View POV Primary Characters Privacy and Copyright Notice Private Writing Protagonist Public Writing Puns Reality Play Reality T.V. Resolution/Dénouement Résumé Review Rhetorical Nonfiction Rising action Rules Scene Scope Second Person Secondary Characters Self Review Setting Sexuality Short Bio Short Stories Short Story Short Story Collection Short Story Review Show Simple Rules Sites Skopje Static Characters Story Structure Summary Telling Tense The Politics of Memoir The Politics of Memoir and the Making of Memoir Madness The Trash Can of L.A.: A Reality Play Thematic Sites Theme Themes Third Person Third Person Limited Third Person Omniscient Third Person Singular Three Basic Rules Tone Trollie Trolls Viewpoint Weight Weight Issues What If? Why I Write Why YOU Write Writer Writers Writing Writing Exercise: The Objective Point of View Writing Exercises Writing Purpose Zomja Zomja.com
Show more

Privacy and Copyright Notice

Photo Credit – NASA

The banner on this site has been created from one of the most iconic photos in modern history: Earthrise as viewed from the Moon. More