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Story Structure

What is Story Structure?

Stories contains parts. The way that these parts are arranged creates the structure of the story. These structures shape both the audiences’ expectations and how the author will tell the story. When readers analyze the structure of a story, they look at the story as a mechanic might look at a car engine: readers identify the parts and see how they are working. Though not every story follows a predictable pattern, most do. This page explains conventional story structure.

Exposition

The exposition “exposes” readers to the world of the story. In the exposition, readers are introduced to the setting (time and place of the story) and some or all of the characters. The exposition ends when the conflict or problem is introduced.


Inciting Incident

The inciting incident ends the exposition. This is the moment when the conflict is introduced. A story isn’t much of a story if it doesn’t have a conflict; it’s more of a rambling, so most stories have a conflict. When the conflict enters the narrative, the exposition ends and the rising action begins. This moment is called the inciting incident.

Rising Action

Any event that occurs after the exposition but before the climax or turning point of the story is called rising action. During the rising action, the main character or protagonist of the story may struggle with the conflict but be unable to resolve it. If the story is comedic, the rising action is often a serious of unfortunate events for the main character. If the story is tragic, the rising action is often a series of favorable circumstances for the main character; however, at the climax the momentum of the story changes.

Climax

The climax is the turning point of the story. It is a common misconception that the climax is the most exciting part of a story, but this is not always the case. Rather, the climax is the moment in the story when the momentum or feeling of the narrative shifts. The main character may change, learn a lesson, or meet an important person, and this change will prepare the main character to resolve the conflict in the story. If the story is comedic, the main character’s situation will begin to improve. If the story is tragic, the main character’s situation may begin to deteriorate. Identifying the climax or turning point is the first thing that you should do when identifying the structure of a story. Doing so will allow you to separate all of the events into two columns: rising action and falling action. To find the climax, look for changes in the main character that may indicate a turn in the narrative direction.

Falling Action

Falling actions are events that occur after the climax or turning point of the story. The falling action of a story is often developed in one of two ways: if the problem of the story was solved during the climax, the falling action will simply “wind-down” to the end of the story; however, if the conflict was not resolved during the climax, the falling action may have the protagonist preparing to meet or address the conflict in an impeding moment of final suspense. To put it more simply, falling action refers to any event after the climax right up until the end of the story.

Moment of Final Suspense

A moment of final suspense occurs when the protagonist, after having experienced a change during the climax, meets or addresses the conflict. This is the last part in the story when there is tension, as the resolution of the story depends on the outcome of the moment. Not every story has a moment of final suspense, but many stories do.

Resolution or Denouement

The terms resolution and denouement refer to how the story ends. If the story had a moment of final suspense, the resolution will include all of the events that follow. If the conflict of the story was resolved during the climax, the term resolution may just refer to the final moments of the story.

Story Structure Lesson:

Example of Conventional Story Structure:

Story Structure Worksheets and Activities


"When Gertrude Grew Great"
Students read a motivational story and identify the story structure parts: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. This activity includes a skill sheet that tests students' understanding of other reading skills as well. Suggested reading level for this text: Grade 4-8.
This is a preview image of "When Gertrude Grew Great". Click on it to enlarge it or view the source file.

"The Phone Call"
Still looking for more worksheets about story structure and plot? Here's one more! This story is about a young man who overcomes an internal problem created by negligent family member. Students read the story and then complete a reading skill sheet that includes an analysis of the narrative structure. Suggested reading level for this text: Grade 3-7.
This is a preview image of "The Phone Call". Click on it to enlarge it or view the source file.

"Pierce the Spaceman"
Here is another story structure worksheet. This one is about a spaceman who saves his colony. Students will identify story elements and structure. I use the included reading skill sheets with most of the stories in the text book to perform ongoing skill checks. Suggested reading level for this text: Grade 6-10.
This is a preview image of "Pierce the Spaceman". Click on it to enlarge it or view the source file.

"An Unexpected Chat"
Here's another worksheet to help students review plot, story structure, and elements of literature. This one features a story about a student who learns to resist peer pressure. Students read the story and complete an activity sheet covering story structure and other reading skills. Suggested reading level for this text: Grade 4-8.
This is a preview image of "An Unexpected Chat". Click on it to enlarge it or view the source file.

"The Wallet"
Here is yet another worksheet to help students review plot, story structure, and elements of literature. This story is about a young girl who is faced with a difficult decision: she finds a wallet that does not belong to her. After reading the short story, students complete an activity covering story structure and other reading skills. Suggested reading level for this text: Grade 4-8.
This is a preview image of "The Wallet". Click on it to enlarge it or view the source file.

"The Way of the World"
Here is one more worksheet to help students review plot, story structure, and elements of literature. This story is about a once successful salesman who has difficulty adjusting to the modern ways of business. Students read the short story, analyze the structure of the story, and review reading skills. Suggested reading level for this text: Grade 6-10.
This is a preview image of "The Way of the World". Click on it to enlarge it or view the source file.

Story Structure Worksheet Template
Use this story structure worksheet template with any applicable story that you and your students are reading. This activity sheet will provide students with a framework to help guide them toward identifying structural elements.
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Story Structure Lesson 1
Here is a PowerPoint slideshow on Story Structure. Students read a short story called "Gertrude the Great." Then they are introduced to story structure terms like rising action, climax, resolution.
This is a preview image of Story Structure Lesson 1. Click on it to enlarge it or view the source file.

Story Structure Lesson 2
Here is another slideshow lesson on Story Structure. Students read a short story called "The Breakaway," a motivational story about an athlete who sustains an injury and has to find another way to succeed. Then they will analyze and identify structural elements of the story. Suggested reading level for this text: Grade 5-9.
This is a preview image of Story Structure Lesson 2. Click on it to enlarge it or view the source file.

Story Structure Quiz 1 | "Unto Others"
This is a story structure quizzed based on a short story called "Unto Others." Students read the story, which is about acceptance and redemption, and then they answer multiple choice questions about the structure of the story. Suggested reading level for this text: Grade 5-9.
This is a preview image of "Unto Others". Click on it to enlarge it or view the source file.

Story Structure Quiz 2 | "Blood is Thicker"
This is a story structure quizzed based on a short story called Blood is Thicker. It is about two sisters who are complete opposites. They must learn to work together to achieve their goals. Students read the short story and answer multiple choice questions about the structure of the story. Suggested reading level for this text: Grade 6-10.
This is a preview image of "Blood is Thicker". Click on it to enlarge it or view the source file.

Story Structure Quiz 3 | "Time Warriors"
This is a story structure quizzed based on a short story called Time Warriors. Alex is dismayed when his mother forces him to take his little brother with him to a friend's house. He learns to appreciate him by the end of the story. Students read the short story and complete multiple choice questions about the structure of the narrative. Suggested reading level for this text: Grade 3-7.
This is a preview image of "Time Warriors". Click on it to enlarge it or view the source file.

Common Core State Standards Related to Story Structure

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.5 – Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.

Expand to View All Common Core State Standards Related to Story Structure
ELA Standards: Literature

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.2.5 – Describe the overall structure of a story, including describing how the beginning introduces the story and the ending concludes the action.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.3.5 – Refer to parts of stories, dramas, and poems when writing or speaking about a text, using terms such as chapter, scene, and stanza; describe how each successive part builds on earlier sections.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.4.5 – Explain major differences between poems, drama, and prose, and refer to the structural elements of poems (e.g., verse, rhythm, meter) and drama (e.g., casts of characters, settings, descriptions, dialogue, stage directions) when writing or speaking about a text.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.5.5 – Explain how a series of chapters, scenes, or stanzas fits together to provide the overall structure of a particular story, drama, or poem.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.6.5 – Analyze how a particular sentence, chapter, scene, or stanza fits into the overall structure of a text and contributes to the development of the theme, setting, or plot.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.7.5 – Analyze how a drama’s or poem’s form or structure (e.g., soliloquy, sonnet) contributes to its meaning

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.8.5 – Compare and contrast the structure of two or more texts and analyze how the differing structure of each text contributes to its meaning and style.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.5 – Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulate time (e.g., pacing, flashbacks) create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.5 – Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.

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Common Core Lesson and Unit Plans
Understanding Common Core State Standards

Story Structure Resources

Reinforce story structure skills with these free materials.
Story Structure Worksheets
Story Structure Activities
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3 Comments

  1. Rachel

     /  February 21, 2017

    This is very helpful. My teacher told me to try it out and i loved it so much. After looking at this I got all my work done. Thank you so much for making this.

    Reply
  2. Ash

     /  January 9, 2016

    This is a wonderful material to study for an English final in high school.

    Reply
  3. Mary

     /  August 5, 2013

    This is excellent material for a person to learn how to study story structure.

    Reply

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