Sunday, May 08, 2005

Plot, Story and Structure

Did you even know there was a difference between plot and story?

Let me help. While 'story' is what you want to tell, the chronological sequence of events, 'plot' is how you tell it, your artistic rendition of it.

This differentiation is important because as the author _you_ decide how to tell the story. You emphasize certain events while ignoring others. You tell the events in an order of your choosing -- chronological, flashback, reverse, episodic, chain of causality and effect, or any other way you decide -- and you also pace events as your artistic muse aspires.

A plot is not only the framework of the story, the plan, but it is also what makes the story move forward towards its conclusion, and what makes the readers want to continue reading. While the story describes the issue or issues, the plot describes how these issues are played out and resolved. The plot gives the story its meaning and effect.

The most common structure, regardless of the chronological order of the story, is the following:

Exposition – the author introduces the main characters and orients the reader to the setting, such as time and place.

Conflict – conflict has become a broad term in literary works and it now includes almost any problem the protagonist may have. It can encompass a struggle between the protagonist and another creature, obstacles society puts in the protagonist's way, a battle against nature, a mystery unraveled, or internal and emotional issues being solved.

Rising Action – once the conflict is presented, the crisis occurs and the suspense builds. Complications arise, decisions are made and actions are taken, all developing the central conflict and opening it up to different resolutions.

Climax, or turning point – if the action was rising up until the climax, then the climax is the highest point of the action, from which tensions will fall. Emotions are at a peak and the action taken is the focus of the story.

Falling action – after the climax, all events leading to the resolution are the falling action. Characters sort out complications and display their emotions following the climax, all of them guiding the reader to the resolution.

Denouement, or conclusion – the resolution. Problems are finally solved and the conflict resolved for good or bad. The importance of the denouement is to give the reader a sense of completion and satisfaction. The resolution need not necessarily be good in order to achieve that sense, although for young readers the resolution is often an agreeable and a moral one.

Many regard the above six part plot structure as a three part plot structure of rising action (includes the exposition and the conflict), climax, and falling action (includes the resolution). Regardless of how you look at this basic structure, many authors follow it, but it is not set in stone. What is important is to remember the main function of the plot – to keep the story moving forward to a satisfying resolution.

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