Climbing the Plot Mountain

Plotmountain1Admit it, you’ve seen the plot mountain to the left countless times. This is how you learned the parts of plot, yes? But, if I may be so bold, I’m not a fan of this diagram. Sure, all the parts are present, and the names are right, and it’s a pretty shade of purple. Hooray for that. But I like my plot mountains to look a little different.

I like to think of the chart as more of a graph, with the vertical axis representing the emotional connection of the reader, and the horizontal axis representing the number of pages. That being said, if the above image charted a novel, it’d have about 60 pages of boring explanation. Then, we’d be lucky enough to get 120 pages or so of good rising action, where tension and conflict keep us turning pages. But at about page 180, everything would start falling off. We’d have about 120 pages of loose-end tying. And, of course, we’d have 60 pages of wrapping everything up.

Here’s the one I like to use:


It may be tough to see, so you may want to click on it. Here’s why I like it. First of all, you’ll notice that the “emotional investment” of the reader does not begin at zero. It begins at two, which means we’ve started the novel “in medias res,” or in the middle. That is to say, conflict is already present, or we’re presented with a character that we immediately respond to. Either way, we have some connection to the story. Secondly, you’ll notice that the “exposition” is absent. Whatever backstory we need is told as the story progresses and the tension and conflict increase. Lastly, the climax occurs very close to the end. The “falling action” and “resolution” have been rolled together. Whatever loose ends are tied up are done so as the resolution is established.

If we follow this model, our readers will maintain a high emotional connection to, not only the story, but to our characters. These are the novels that we come back to time and again.

Think of your current project. Do you begin with an immediate emotional connection? If so, how do you escalate that through tension and conflict? Do you keep escalating the emotional connection throughout the climax? Does your resolution keep the readers connected to the characters?

6 thoughts on “Climbing the Plot Mountain”

  • One thing I’ve noticed about too many YA novels these days is their tendency to follow the run-of-the-mill plot mountain. There’s no weaving in backstory or character development. What you see is what you get.
    It’s okay to tell your reader a few things outright. They need to know when and where the story is taking place. But beyond that, try to get more into it.
    Write well, write often.

  • I agree with Kait in that sense and I also have observed that many of the more recent stories tend to make emotional ties with the reader long after the initial start of the book and this makes me bored with the book even after the first chapter.

  • I remember learning the chart in elementary. Your chart makes a lot more sense and I think more successful stories have a structure similar to your chart.

  • I remember using that chart for my whole life. I like to have barely any conflict in my stories because they sound better to me with little conflict.

  • I really like the graph version of the plot set up because it is clearer for writing novels where as the plot mountain seems to work better for literature responses or short stories.

  • I agree that the graph set up does help me visually. In 8th grade i learned the plot sequence which i must admit i dont always follow when i write, which may be why i am not always happy with the stories i have created… I agree with Miranda that a plot mopuntain may work better for responses or short stories.

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