A well-formed plot must have a beginning, middle, and ending. It should be unified, which means all the elements should tie together. Successful plots should contain surprises or revelations that fit logically into the story.

The steps of the plot to a play are as follows: (We’ll use Romeo & Juliet as examples in parentheses)

  • Exposition/Introduction– The opening scene(s) may or may not be an introduction to the world and characters. (Everything in the play up to the moment Romeo and Juliet Meet)
  • Inciting Incident/Point of Attack- The moment the main story begins, it is usually when the protagonist is emotionally prepared for his/her journey. (Romeo and Juliet meet)
  • Rising Action– Scenes or beats that contain “events” which push the protagonist closer and closer to what he/she wants. Each “event” should raise the stakes higher as we get closer and closer to the inevitable climax.
  • Point of No Return/Dark Moment– The moment that makes the climax inevitable. (The letter of Juliet’s plan to fake her death doesn’t reach Romeo).
  • Climax– The biggest event that occurs in the play, it is the event that changes the protagonist for better or worse. (Romeo and Juliet kill themselves for love.)
  • Falling Action- The scene(s) that follows the climax in order to sum up any loose ends. (The families find the slain lovers)
  • Dénouement/Conclusion French for “unknotting” if a moral is learned or stasis resturned to the world, it is in the last moment of a play. (When the feuding families decide to end their feud.)

We have used this style of plotting since the plays of Sophocles and his contemporaries. You can use this to break down the plot of everything from Oedipus Rex to Dear Evan Hanson.

Major Dramatic Question:

All plays are mysteries. There is a question at the center of all of them. And we call this the Major Dramatic Question. It is the question that motivates the protagonist to take action, and to continue on his or her journey. Some of the most famous cinematic MDQ’s are: Will Dorothy get home? Will Frodo destroy the ring? Will Harry defeat Voldemort? The question has a yes or no answer. Of course there are more nuanced questions that arise as the story goes, but the driving force of the story will always be thatmajorr question. The MDQ gets posed at the inciting incident and answered at the climax. Once the question is answered, the story is over. What is the MDQ of Romeo & Juliet?


Author: Patrick Hurley

Graduated UCLA with his MFA in Playwriting. Is an educator and writer Constantly in search of meaning...

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