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When I’m reading a novel or a short story, I know what a plot is. But when somebody asks me what is the definition of plot, I often find it hard to give a clear and straightforward explanation. Sometimes I use similes, and depending on the situation, I would say that story is the body, and the plot is the skeleton, or the story is the tree, and the plot is the trunk and branches that support it, but I do not explain it.
In any case, understanding a story’s plot can help readers better comprehend the narrative’s overall message and themes. It also allows readers to enjoy the text more. In this article, we will explore what the plot is, how it differs from the story, and what plot points are. We will also provide four practical tips for identifying the plot in a novel or short story and popular plot types.
Table of contents
What is the Plot in a Story?
The plot in a story refers to the sequence of events that make up the narrative. Now, the events don’t occur by themselves, they need to be made by someone, so the plot necessarily implies the characters, their actions, and the consequences of those actions.
Another way to explain the plot in a narrative is by saying that it can be broken down into three main components: exposition, rising action, and resolution. Or, as we learned in grade school: beginning, middle, and end.
Again a simile: a plot is like a map that helps us understand what’s happening in the story. It’s a series of connected events that help tell a story. Or, as George Saunders would say: plot is what happens.
While plot and story are often used interchangeably, they are not the same
What is the Difference between Plot and Story?
While plot and story are often used interchangeably, they are not the same. The story is what happens as a result of the plot, fills in the details, and gives the plot meaning. We can say that the story is the specific actions that live inside the structure created by the plot.
In The Great Gatsby, for instance, the plot is the events that take place: Nick Carraway moves to New York, meets Gatsby and becomes involved in his life, falls in love with Jordan, attends Gatsby’s parties, etc. The story, on the other hand, is part of the underlying tension that drives the story: Gatsby’s obsession with Daisy, his past relationship with her, and his attempts to win her back. The story is what gives the plot its meaning and depth.
What is a Plot Point?
A plot point is a significant event or turning point in the story that directly impacts the action or series of events. Plot points can be significant events, such as the death of a character or a major revelation, or small events that contribute to the overall tension and conflict in the narrative. In any case, plot points represent changes in the flow of the story. If they are a continuation of events -let’s say: I wake up, shower, get dressed, and get to work-they are not plot points. Now, consider this: I wake up, shower, get… wait a minute, where are my pants?! That is a plot point because now I must do something before going to work.
4 Tips to Help Identify the Plot in a Story
Identifying the plot in a story can be challenging, particularly in longer narratives. However, readers can use several tips and tricks to help them identify the plot and understand the overall message and themes of the story.
- Look for Key Turning Points: As previously mentioned, plot points are significant events or turning points in the story that directly impact the plot. Look for the where are my pants?! moments in the narrative, and you will be able to understand the story better.
- Pay attention to character actions and consequences: What are the characters doing? You can make a list of verbs, and you will be able to see the characters’ actions clearly. Now, what is the outcome of their actions? For example, I decide to go to work without pants… yes, there will be consequences.
- Analyze the story’s themes: Ask yourself what the story is about. What is the big idea or message behind the story? What is the main lesson you can learn from the story? Remember the answers to those questions while reading; it will be easier to identify the plot. In our case, let us say that the theme is punctuality. Then, my missing pants is an important event in the plot that is directly related to the story’s theme.
Examples of Popular Story Plots
There are many popular story plot examples, from classic literature to modern bestsellers, and some plot types have emerged as particularly popular over the years. The good thing about this is that they offer both authors and readers a framework for understanding the events of a story -and remember, plot is events-. Some of the most used plot examples include:
- The Quest: The hero sets out on a journey to find something, often a magical object. I look for my pants all around my place.
- Rags to Riches: The protagonist starts with nothing and rises to greatness. I am pantless; look at these Secret Citrus Diamond Jeans!
- Love Story: Two people fall in love and must overcome obstacles to be together. Nobody is wearing pants.
- Tragedy: The protagonist suffers a significant loss or downfall. I miss my pants 😭
- Rebirth: The protagonist transforms and learns to see the world differently. Who needs pants? I am free!
- Man Against Nature: The protagonist must battle against nature to survive. My dog runs away with my pants.
- Man Against Society: The protagonist must face off against an oppressive society. Why do I have to wear pants?
- Coming of Age: The protagonist transforms as she grows up. I can’t put on my pants…
Character Driven Plots
Character-driven plots are stories where the characters are the main focus and create tension and resolution. They are engaging for readers because they can relate to the characters. To make an excellent character-driven plot, the characters must be well-developed with goals and motivations, and the plot should follow a logical progression. In addition, the characters need to be believable and relatable to the readers.
So there you have it, my dear, invisible readers! With these tips and tricks, you’ll be able to identify the plot of any story and impress all your friends with your literary prowess. Remember, the plot is essential to any story and makes reading much more enjoyable. Without it, things can get a little breezy, and nobody wants that. So next time you’re reading a book or watching a movie, remember these tips, and don’t forget to ask yourself, Where are my pants? Or rather, What is the plot?