Plot Analysis

by Debra Bruch

Download the Plot Worksheet in Microsoft Word.

Plot is the arrangement of events within the script.

Event: a significant occurrence, incident, or experience.


(1) Discover the play's situation.

A situation is the time and circumstances of the world of the drama. What are the characters doing at the beginning of the play?

(2) Seek the inciting incident.

Something happens to make the action of the play begin.

(3) Ask, "What happens?"

"What are the main events?"

(4) How does an event affect characters?

For instance, in Ibsen's Ghosts, the orphanage burns down. This event dashes Pastor Manders' dreams and eventually leads to Mrs. Alving revealing her late husband's true personality.

(5) What is the pattern?

This is usually a cause-effect pattern. Events alone do not make up a plot. A playwright arranges events, usually by cause and effect. An arrangement is a pattern. A person who analyzes plot seeks a pattern of events and categorizes large portions of events in order to identify its arrangement.

(6) Are there archetypal motifs or patterns?

"Myth is, in the general sense, universal. Furthermore, similar motifs or themes may be found among many different mythologies, and certain images that recur in the myths of peoples widely separated in time and place tend to have a common meaning or, more accureately, tned to elicit comparable psychological responses and to serve similar cultural functions. Such motifs and images are called archetypes. Stated simply, archetypes are universal symbols."

  1. The quest: the hero undertakes some long journey during which he must perform impossible tasks, battle with monsters, solve unanswerable riddles, and overcome insurmountable obstacles in order to save the kingdom and perhaps marry the princess.
  2. Initiation: the hero undergoes a series of excruciating ordeals in passing from ignorance and immaturity to social and spiritual adulthood, that is, in achieving maturity and becoming a full-fledged member of his social group. The initiation most commonly consists of three distinct phases:
      • separation,
      • transformation, and
      • return
  3. Like the quest, this is a variation of the death-and-rebirth archetype.
  4. The sacrificial scapegoat: the hero, with whom the welfare of the tribe or nation is identified, must die to atone for the people's sins and restore the land to fruitfulness.

(7) What happens to the main character? or characters?

To seek the arrangement of events and discover what happens to the main character at the end of the play often reveals the playwright's message or point of view.

(8) How does the main character change?

Events may do things to the characters, but that isn't the same as discovering how a character changes. Discover how a character changes psychologically. Does his attitude or point of view change?