A traditional plot development traces the action of the plot through exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. However, some writers do not find this to be a useful way to conceptualize their plots. Janet Burroway in Imaginative Writing suggests three other ways to look at your story which could be compatible with the traditional plot arc: story as a journey, story as a power struggle, and story as connection and disconnection.
In story as a journey, one force or being will encounter another, forcing a change. Your plot, then, becomes the story of that change. Thinking of your story as a journey can be fruitful in plot creation as it creates questions such as “where is your protagonist going and why does he want to go there?” and “what are the obstacles that hinder your protagonist?” for consideration. Ultimately, the story will either end with the goal of the protagonist being realized or left unfulfilled.
Story as a power struggle sees plot through the lens of “conflict, crisis, and resolution.” In this model, your plot will center around the struggle between protagonist and antagonist (which can be a person but can also be the protagonist struggling against himself, nature society, etc.). Tensions will be built through shifts in power and rising stakes until eventually one side prevails.
Story as connection or disconnection focuses on the connection and disconnection in the relationships between characters. Tension and conflict are created through the interaction between human characters.
Mary Kole in Writing Irresistible Kidlit offers yet another way to think of plot: the emotional plot. The emotional plot focuses on the protagonist’s experience and emotions throughout the story. It begins with a norm—whatever the protagonist’s life looked like on a daily basis before the inciting incident. The inciting incident kicks off the action of your plot and somehow disturbs the protagonist’s norm. Following this, there should be an emotional rise and then an emotional fall. When your character hits her rock-bottom moment, “This is the instant that sees your character decide to risk everything and engage in the Climax” (163). The climax is then followed by an evening out which leads your character to a new normal at the resolution of the story. This plot model is helpful to some because it focuses on what is happening to your character, how they feel, and how they respond, which keeps the plot centered on the protagonist throughout.
Some writers ditch the plot outline altogether in favor of winging their way through a story. This works for some who feel constrained by outlines and neat little charts. That being said, a plot outline can be changed or completely thrown out if you find that it isn’t useful or that your story is moving in a direction you hadn’t anticipated, so it can never hurt to try mapping out your plot in advance. It can also be helpful when you are stuck to consider the plot arc you are attempting to create. So, if you have reached a point where you do not know what needs to happen next in your story and the traditional plot arc isn’t inspiring you, try out one of these other models to develop your models and see what works best for you.