Plot is one of the five elements of a fictional story. A plot is the gist of a story, and composed of linked events. A plot highlights the line of a story and all the important points. If a scene or action is not connected to the line of a story it is not part of the plot. “Plot [contains] the major events that move the action in a narrative. It is the sequence of major events in a story, usually in a cause-effect relation.”¹
Plot differs from story. Story is often seen as the chronological sequence of events: first A happens, then B, then C. The plot on the other hand is defined as the order and duration of events as they are presented to us. That means information and story parts can be left out or switched in how they are presented to us and how they are connected (causality). A novel gives us plot, but might not give us the full story.
E.M. Forster, a famous writer from the beginning of the 20th century, explained it as follows:
“We have defined a story as a narrative of events arranged in their time-sequence. A plot is also a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality [the connection, or causal link, the ‘why’], “The king died and the queen died,” is a story. “The king died and then the queen died of grief,” is a plot. The time-sequence is preserved, but the sense of causality overshadows it. Or again: “The queen died, no one knew why, until it was discovered that it was through grief at the death of the king.” This is a plot with a mystery in it, a form capable of high development. It suspends the time-sequence, it moves as far away from the story as its limitations will allow2.” 3
The plot of The Wizard of Oz (1939) is as follows:
“A tornado picks up a house and drops it on a witch, a little girl meets some interesting traveling companions, a wizard sends them on a mission, and they melt a witch with a bucket of water.”4
A narrative (story) can have one or more plot-lines that is, events can centre around one or more groups of characters. “Single plot novels are comparatively rare, most novels develop multiple plots. These multiple plot lines are not necessarily all of the same importance, there can be a main plot-line and one or more subplot lines. Such subplots can serve as a contrast to the main plot when, for instance, there is the same constellation of events in a higher and a lower social sphere.” 5
1 Plot (narrative), Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plot_(narrative)
2 The story would be in this case: ‘the king died’ (A) and ‘the queen died’ (B).
The plot would be in this case ‘the queen died’ (B) ‘no one knew why, until it was discovered that it was through grief’ (causal link) ‘at the death of the king’(A).
3 E.M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel, 1927, Penguin, p.87
4 Plot (narrative), Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plot_(narrative)
5 Basics of English Studies, University of Freiburg: http://www2.anglistik.uni-freiburg.de/intranet/englishbasics/Plot01.htm
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