When plots become stories...
What is the difference between a plot and a story?
Everyone likes a good story. Stories are basically a chronological order of a group of events to give readers information about the characters and their events. A plot twists the order to give it an angle. A narrator can then put a tale into an order by cherry picking events to show cause, effects, and resolutions all to make the story more interesting. The very word 'plot' itself is a tricky one, isn't it? It could be defined as a conspiracy to distort a story.
Try this next time you read a book for a second or third time. Take all the story elements and list them into chronological order. Are there elements in the plot not in the story? Is there a sub-plot that is not necessary? What about important story elements not included in the plot? Do you think the story could have been told without the careful plotting created by the author? Or was he sloppy in delivery? Did each part fit together to form a coherent whole?
All stories begin with a beginning, middle and an end. Aristotle taught us that with his little book 'Poetics
'. That dude has certainly left his mark in history in so many ways. Anyways, let's go into what he has to say about what makes a good plot stand out.
Here's an overview of Aristotles Poetics for reference:
Basically, Aristotle explains that we all learn through imitation. Listening to stories, looking at pictures, imitating gestures and words, etc. He believed it was a natural process and the result was to learn how to take apart stories and see how they were constructed.
The wheels always turn in a good story so we need A beginning. It introduces the characters, a setting, and a bit on their situation. The protagonist is introduced and we're given some details on his character. Everything is cool in the beginning. All is well and the reader is basically shown scenes that are stable in relation to the scenes surrounding the players. The beginning is a place where we get to know the people, places, and things and their characteristics. After a while an event will occur to throw all this into something interesting. Something to fling the characters off balance, launching them into opposite directions, and preventing or instilling in them a need for action.
This brings us to the middle. A place where everything goes awry. The characters are forced into new situations and face challenges so the reader can get a better sense of what the characters are up against. The antagonist is seen in a better light. Slowly being revealed to the reader. Things may get worse before they get better. What can happen next?
The ending is where all the conflicts seen at the beginning and how they're worked out in the middle resolve themselves. Most endings settle themselves either comically or tragically. Although, an open ending leaving some questions unanswered seems to be a trend. Leaving it open for sequels and spinoffs of all kinds.
Keeping track of all the twists and turns in a plot can be difficult on your first time through a book. Learning the basics from 'Poetics' helps to keep it in mind though. Plus, it'll begin to make re-reading more rewarding, it'll add more discovery, and it'll ask more questions in the mind of the reader.
I'll close this post with a few questions for readers to consider:
What makes a great beginning?
Are there any stories, novels, or movies that grab your attention right at the start? Is there anything common?
What makes a great ending? Is it really the hardest part of the story to get right?
What stories have powerful beginnings, a meaty middle, and a really shitty ending?