Anne Greenwood Brown describes the modern story arc and illustrates it with a plot diagram that explains what the contemporary reader/audience/listener expects. Whether screenplay, audio play, novel or short story, plot follows a basic format:
- The exposition at the beginning tells what life is like before the story starts, sets an opening image and often times a secondary character states the theme
- The inciting incident sets the story off – the characters would continue on a straight line for all eternity if for the inciting incident that sets them in a different direction
- The action rises, we fall in love with the characters, and at the top, the bad guy closes in; at the midpoint of the story (which should literally fall in the middle), the protagonist plummets to the lowest point
- In the pit of despair, the protagonist(s) receive something to help them pull themselves up from the abyss, and they pull themselves out
- As the story ends, the protagonists are on a higher plane than when the tale began, and we are left with a resonating, heartwarming (or wrenching!) image – the emotion and image that stays in your head as you walk away.
While not all stories may follow this structure, it’s safe to say the most popular ones do.