I really wanted to write something else for this edition. But something caught on during my conversation with a few old students of my Screenwriting Academy Studio – ScreenWrite.In about ‘plot’ and ‘story’, that I think now, should share with you what transpired from our discussion, yesterday.
The sort and type of queries I tried to give light to from my experience and readings indicate that there definitely exists some kind of ambiguities in the minds of some students and aspiring writers (at the least) about ‘plot’ and ‘story’.
Let’s start from a beginning. What’s the definition of plot? This’s what I found from a dictionary relevant to what we need to know:
noun, verb, plot·ted, plot·ting.–noun
2. Also called storyline. the plan, scheme, or main story of a literary or dramatic work, as a play, novel, or short story.
6. a list, timetable, or scheme dealing with any of the various arrangements for the production of a play, motion picture, etc.: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/plot
Plot is a literary term for the events a story comprises, particularly as they relate to one another in a pattern, a sequence, through cause and effect, or by coincidence. One is generally interested in how well this pattern of events accomplishes some artistic or emotional effect. . . . http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plot_(narrative)
Here, we find words related to planning and scheming ‘events’ a story is comprised of, which in turn suggests ‘plot’ and ‘story’ are deferent. Plot relates to an exercise of making an order of the main events of a work of fiction (or fact). So, Plot differs from story to clearly define how events are related, how they are structured, and how they enact change in the major characters. Example: In a movie such as “Love Actually,” the plot and the story are two very different things.
Now, how do you define a ‘story’?
Story is the chain or succession of events in a work of fiction (or fact) as we imagine them to have taken place, in the chronological order in which they would have occurred in life (as opposed to plot). Story can only have chronological order, but plot needn’t. When the plot has a linear order, it can adapt to a structural paradigm like Three Act Structure as Syd Field advocates or when the plot is non-linear or doesn’t resort to any structure at all, it’s called plot variation as in the movie ‘Usual Suspects.’
Whichever be the definitions, ‘plot’ is distinct from ‘story’ and I’d like you to understand one thing. As far as I know, plot and story definitions come one single source, Aristotle’s Poetics. Aristotle clearly marks ‘plot’ as an arrangement of incidents, and ‘thought’ as the story (the ‘theme’ or the ‘narrative’). Every other definition is derived from these two basic elements.
From my readings, I find story more connected with emotion, and plot more of a structure of story telling. William Goldman: “Stories are emotions and screenplays are structures”. It’s a ‘Holistic Force’ that can permeate a part of a story or the entire story as a whole. It is a plan. A plot is a storyline and develops like this: what happens first, what happens next, what happens after that, what are the conflicts, what are the resolutions, what is the rising action, the climax of the story, the falling action, what happens at the end.
In most cases it’s the plot that keeps us interested in the story. And good stories always have all the plot elements in them. Ask yourself the following questions regarding “A Jury of Her Peers,( Susan Glaspell )” — “Why did the author arrange the story elements the way she did? How does she control our emotional response and prepare us for reversals or surprises?”
Plot is also known as: scheme, framework, scenario, progress, artifice, setup,