Plot is a literary term defined as the events that make up a story, particularly as they relate to one another in a pattern, in a sequence, through cause and effect, how the reader views the story, or simply by coincidence. A plot "insures that you get your character from point A to point Z" according to author Jenna Blum. One is generally interested in how well this pattern of events accomplishes some artistic or emotional effect. An intricate, complicated plot is called an imbroglio, but even the simplest statements of plot may include multiple inferences, as in traditional ballads.
Aristotle on plot
In his Poetics, Aristotle considered plot (mythos) the most important element of drama—more important than character, for example. A plot must have, Aristotle says, a beginning, a middle, and an end, and the events of the plot must causally relate to one another as being either necessary or probable. (Poetics 23.1459a.)
Of the utmost importance to Aristotle is the plot's ability to arouse emotion in the psyche of the audience. In tragedy, the appropriate emotions are fear and pity, emotions which he considers in his Rhetoric. (Aristotle's work on comedy has not survived.)
Aristotle goes on to consider whether the tragic character suffers (pathos), and whether or not the tragic character commits the error with knowledge of what he is doing. He illustrates this with the question of a tragic character who is about to kill someone in his family.
- The worst situation [artistically] is when the personage is with full knowledge on the point of doing the deed, and leaves it undone. It is odious and also (through the absence of suffering) untragic; hence it is that no one is made to act thus except in some few instances, e.g., Haemon and Creon in Antigone. Next after this comes the actual perpetration of the deed meditated. A better situation than that, however, is for the deed to be done in ignorance, and the relationship discovered afterwards, since there is nothing odious in it, and the discovery will serve to astound us. But the best of all is the last; what we have in Cresphontes, for example, where Merope, on the point of slaying her son, recognizes him in time; in Iphigenia, where sister and brother are in a like position; and in Helle, where the son recognizes his mother, when on the point of giving her up to her enemy.(Poetics book 14).
Freytag on Plot
Gustav Freytag considered plot a narrative structure that divides a story into five parts, like the five acts of a play. These parts are: exposition (of the situation); rising action (through conflict); climax (or turning point); falling action; and resolution.
The exposition introduces all of the main characters in the story. It shows how they relate to one another, what their goals and motivations are, and the kind of person they are. The audience may have questions about any of these things, which get settled, but if they do have them they are specific and well-focused questions. Most importantly, in the exposition, the audience gets to know the main character (protagonist), and the protagonist gets to know his or her main goal and what is at stake if he or she fails to attain this goal and if he eventually attains this goal
This phase ends, and the next begins, with the introduction of conflict.
Right before the Rising Action is the Inciting Incident. This is the point of the plot that begins the conflict. Plot parts Ex. "The Most Dangerous Game" has an argument of Inciting Incidents;
Hearing the Gunshots that made him go to the rail--
"An abrupt sound startled him. Off to the right he heard it, and his ears, expert in such matters, could not be mistaken. Again he heard the sound, and again. Somewhere, off in the blackness, someone had fired a gun three times." (The Most Dangerous Game, Richard Connell)
--or him dropping his pipe and falling into the ocean.
"Rainsford sprang up and moved quickly to the rail, mystified. He strained his eyes in the direction from which the reports had come, but it was like trying to see through a blanket. He leaped upon the rail and balanced himself there, to get greater elevation; his pipe, striking a rope, was knocked from his mouth. He lunged for it; a short, hoarse cry came from his lips as he realized he had reached too far and had lost his balance. The cry was pinched off short as the blood-warm waters of the Caribbean Sea dosed over his head."
Rising action is the second phase in Freytag's five-phase structure. It starts with the death of the characters or a conflict.The build up of events until the climax are involved in rising action.
"Conflict" in Freytag's discussion must not be confused with "conflict" in Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch's critical apparatus to categorize plots into types, e.g., man vs. society. The difference is that an entire story can be discussed according to Quiller-Couch's mode of analysis, while Freytag is talking about the second act in a five-act play, at a time when all of the major characters have been introduced, their motives and allegiances have been made clear (at least for the most part), and they now begin to struggle against one another.
Generally, in this phase the protagonist understands his or her goal and begins to work toward it. Smaller problems thwart their initial success and, in this phase, progress is directed primarily against these secondary obstacles. This phase shows us how the protagonist overcomes these obstacles.
This is when a disagreement between two or more people/groups occur. This disagreement leads to the climax.
The point of climax is the turning point of the story, where the main character makes the single big decision that defines the outcome of the story and who he or she is as a person. The dramatic phase that Freytag called the "climax" is the third of the five phases and occupies the middle of the story. Thus "the climax" may refer to either the point of climax or to the third phase of the drama.
The beginning of this phase is marked by the protagonist finally having cleared away the preliminary barriers and being ready to engage with the adversary. Usually, entering this phase, both the protagonist and the antagonist have a plan to win against the other. Now for the first time we see them going against one another in either direct or nearly direct conflict.
This struggle results with neither character completely winning, nor losing, against the other. Usually, each character's plan is partially successful, and partially foiled by his adversary. What is unique about this central struggle between the two characters is that the protagonist makes a decision which shows us his moral quality, and ultimately determines his fate. In a tragedy, the protagonist here makes a "bad" decision, a miscalculation that demonstrates his tragic flaw.
The climax often contains much of the action in a story, for example, a defining battle.
″Climax″ is the highest point of the story.
Freytag called this phase "falling action" is the events in the story that lead to usually a happy ending. The events consist of the actions of characters resolving the problem.
In this phase, the villain has the upper hand. It seems that evil will triumph. The protagonist has never been further from accomplishing the goal. For Freytag, this is true both in tragedies and comedies, because both of these types of plots classically show good winning over evil. The question is which side the protagonist has put himself on, and this may not be immediately clear to the audience.
The Resolution: where the story's mystery is solved. In this stage all patterns of events accomplish some artistic or emotional effect.
A plot device is a means of advancing the plot in a story, often used to motivate characters, create urgency, or resolve a difficulty. This can be contrasted with moving a story forward with narrative (or dramatic) technique; that is, by making things happen because characters take action for well-motivated reasons. As an example, when the cavalry shows up at the last moment and saves the day in a battle, that can be argued to be a plot device; when an adversarial character who has been struggling with himself saves the day due to a change of heart, that is dramatic technique.
A plot outline is a prose telling of a story which can be turned into a screenplay. Sometimes called a "one page" (one-page synopsis, about 1-3 pages in length). It is generally longer and more detailed than a standard synopsis (1-2 paragraphs), but shorter and less detailed than a treatment or a step outline. There are different ways to create these outlines and they vary in length, but are essentially the same thing.
The pencils will be very loose (i.e., the rough sketch), the main goals being to lay out the flow of panels across a page, to ensure the story successfully builds suspense and to work out points of view, camera angles, and character positions within panels. This can also be referred to as a "plot outline" or a "layout".
In fiction writing, a plot outline is a "laundry list of scenes" with each line being a separate plot point, and the outline helps give a story a "solid backbone and structure," according to Jenna Blum.
- Arthur Quiller-Couch originally formulated seven basic plots as a series of conflicts: Man vs. Man, Man vs. Nature, Man against God, Man vs. Society, Man in the Middle, Man & Woman, Man vs. Himself.
- The Seven Basic Plots, a book by Christopher Booker
- Dramatic structure
- Syd Field: Three-act structure in screenplays and films
- Gustav Freytag
- Mythos (Aristotle)
- Narrative structure
- Narrative thread
- Plot drift
- Plot hole
- The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations, which is Georges Polti's categorization of every dramatic situation that might occur in a story or performance.
- Robert McKee
- Schooled (book)
- Jenna Blum, 2013, The Modern Scholar published by Recorded Books, The Author at Work: The Art of Writing Fiction, Disk 1, Track 10, ISBN 978-1-4703-8437-1, "...Plot insures that you get your character from point A to point Z..."
- Notes on the Ballad Form Fetched 16 October 2013
- Jenna Blum, 2013, The Modern Scholar published by Recorded Books, The Author at Work: The Art of Writing Fiction, Disk 1, Track 12, ISBN 978-1-4703-8437-1
- Obstfeld, Raymond (2002). Fiction First Aid: Instant Remedies for Novels, Stories and Scripts. Cincinnati, OH: Writer's Digest Books. ISBN 1-58297-117-X.
- Foster-Harris (1960). The Basic Formulas of Fiction. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press. ASIN B0007ITQBY.
- Polking, K (1990). Writing A to Z. Cincinnati, OH: Writer's Digest Books. ISBN 0-89879-435-8.
- The "Basic" Plots In Literature, Information on the most common divisions of the basic plots, from the Internet Public Library organization.
- Plot on TV Tropes, a wiki catalog of the tricks of the trade for writing fiction