Alternative Plot Structures for Authors

On Tuesday we talked about Freytag’s Pyramid, the traditional plot structure that has its roots in ancient Greece. While this structure is the most common in storytelling, it is far from the only one. Today we will examine two of the most popular alternatives to structuring your story, as well as introduce a few you might not have seen before.

The Fichtean Curve

Also known as the goal-oriented plot, a Fichtean Curve structure defies the Freytag notion that a story only results in one singular conflict. In a Fichtean Curve plot, the protagonists are faced with multiple - at least three - obstacles of increasing intensity on their path to resolving their ultimate goal. Similar to Freytag, this structure results in an ultimate climax that resolves that goal, followed by resolution and falling action.

The Fichtean Curve is not as common as Freytag’s Pyramid, but it is still the most common structure in fantasy and science fiction. In these genres, the heroes are usually tested more than once, resulting in a constant stream of action. Of all the structures, this is the one that I personally prefer to both read and write. Exposition - the building of characters, background, relationships, etc. - occurs throughout the story, not just at the beginning.

The Fichtean Curve, however, is not the only plot structure that is popular in science fiction and fantasy.

The Hero’s Journey

The Hero’s Journey is a somewhat unique structure in that it is cyclical. It, like Freytag’s Pyramid, has its roots in ancient Greece. Specifically, the Hero’s Journey is the basis for most classical myths and modern epic fantasies. Depending on who you ask, the structure has anywhere between eight and seventeen stages. Some stories might only focus on a handful of stages, while others might go through the whole cycle.

What makes the Hero’s Journey unique is that the world returns to “normal”, though that normalcy is different than when they set out. Take Bilbo Baggins in the Hobbit; Bilbo is a reluctant adventurer in the beginning, persuaded to go on this great journey by a wizard. Through his trials, Bilbo eventually returns to the Shire, to a normal, though his normal is much different now. Now he is aware of the massive world out there, of his own capabilities, and he has a much stronger awareness of himself. He has truly gone on a Hero’s Journey.

Other Alternative Plot Structures

There are a whole host of alternative, albeit not-so-popular plot structures to choose from as well. These plot structures are difficult to execute, but just because they aren’t common doesn’t mean they can’t still make excellent stories. These structures include Choose-Your-Own-Adventures, Flashback Plot, Nodal, Modulated, and Open Plot Structure. And one that tends to stand out above these niche structures is In Media Res, a Freytag’s Pyramid that starts in the midst of your conflict or rising action.

Whatever your choice, be sure to play your plot structure to its strengths. A Fichtean Curve keeps the pace quick and the reader on the edge of their seat. A Hero’s Journey shows an epic adventure that highlights the development of the main character. Alternative structures allow you to create a more complex story with many facets and plot points that wouldn’t otherwise flow in more common plot structures.

And there you have it! Is that all the plot structures in the world? Not at all, but I included the ones worth noting and some of the more interesting ones as well. Let me know in the comments below what plot structure you have used in your writing. Or choose your favourite book and tell me what plot structure it uses and how it uses it successfully.

Thanks for stopping by! Until next time.