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:

    1. 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
    1. 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
    1. 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
    1. In the pit of despair, the protagonist(s) receive something to help them pull themselves up from the abyss, and they pull themselves out
  1. 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.

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