Initial Wretchedness at Home
Any rags-to-riches story has to start with the rags, right? This section of the plot basically includes the first 10-odd chapters of David Copperfield, when David is forced to suffer at the hands of his abusive stepfather, Mr. Murdstone, his abusive headmaster, Mr. Creakle, and abusive society in general, as a factory-worker at the firm of Murdstone and Grinby.
Out into the World, Initial Success
David runs away from his stepfather's factory to his aunt's house. Miss Betsey takes him and saves him from the dire circumstances of his life as a London child laborer. At the same time, David still has to make it on his own: he has to go to school, and he has to start on a new profession as a proctor (a kind of lawyer) in London.
The Central Crisis
David is doing OK as an apprentice proctor when Miss Betsey suddenly shows up in his apartment, Mr. Dick in tow. It turns out that Miss Betsey has lost all of her money so David has to support her. What makes his need for money all the more dire is that his fiancée Dora's father dies. It turns out that Dora has no money, either. If the two of them are going to get married, it's all going to be because of the cash David can earn to support his growing household. He rises to the occasion by getting another couple of jobs: he starts reporting on government debates for magazines. And he works as a secretary for Doctor Strong.
Independence and the Final Ordeal
David's magazine reporting turns into fiction writing, which slowly starts to pull in the dough. David's reputation grows, but his private life is kind of falling apart: while Miss Betsey manages to recover her lost money from Uriah Heep, David's wife Dora miscarries and dies after a long illness. David heads to Europe for three years to get his head straight. While in Europe, David realizes that he has always truly been in love with Agnes Wickfield. But he thinks it's too late to do anything about it. David resigns himself to being Agnes's friend only.
Final Union, Completion, and Fulfillment
After a break away from England to think things over, David returns to his home country and to fame and fortune as a writer. He also finds that his love for Agnes is returned and that she hasn't turned her back on him, even though David totally married another girl. So, David and Agnes marry and settle down to have children.