How does one structure a plot?
At its most basic level, plot is the sequencing of events in a narrative. If characters are the “who” and motivation is the “why”, plot is the “what” of a story. Most stories will follow, more or less, the same overall plot structure. Plot is also a way for scenes and actions to be grouped in a logical way.
Plot is usually structured into the following elements: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution.
In the exposition, we first meet our characters and setting. We learn who our characters are, and what they want.
During the rising action, characters are introduced to conflicts that prevent them from getting what they want. Rising action is usually kicked off by an event that forces our hero out of his/her comfort zone and into the story.
In the climax, the tension that is built during the rising action reaches its highest point. This should be the biggest test or conflict that our hero faces.
During the falling action, our hero experiences the fallout from the climax and has finally achieved the goals that he or she set out to achieve.
In the resolution, we return to a “normal” state similar to the exposition, but due to the events of the story the elements of this state or the characters involved have changed.
Using these basic elements, you can make your plot as simple or as complex as you’re able to convincingly write the story. Plot is not the same as character, and should not overshadow the other elements of the story. A strong character will drive the elements of the plot; in other words, the step-by-step sequencing of events that make up the plot are mostly the result of character choices, not merely moments that give the characters something to do. While a part of any good story is the character reacting to events beyond his or her control (for example, the death of Luke's aunt and uncle in Star Wars: A New Hope changes his world completely, but he still ultimately makes the choice to leave home with Obi-Wan Kenobi), plot should ultimately be driven by characters.