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Plot is a narrative (and, traditionally, literary) term defined as the events that make up a story, particularly: as they relate to one another in a pattern or in a sequence; as they relate to each other through cause and effect; how the reader views the story; or simply by coincidence. Authors are 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.
A plot is composed of causal events, which are a series of sentences linked by "and so." A plot highlights the important points and the line of a story. Ansen Dibell writes: "Plot is built of significant events in a given story - significant because they have important consequences." Consequently, it also has the same meaning as storyline.
A plot was defined in 1927 by the English novelist E. M. Forster. Forster defined a plot as the cause‐and‐effect relationship between events in a story. Forster says, "'The king died, and then the queen died' is a story, whereas 'The king died, and then (and so) the queen died of grief ' is a plot." Namely, the queen succumbed to psychosomatic disease. Forster's definition provides a working definition of a plot.
A plot is causality. Causal events make up the plot of the story. For example, event A: "The Prince searches for Cinderella with the glass shoe.," then, event B: "Cinderella's sisters tried the shoe on, but it does not fit.," after that, event C: "The shoe fits Cinderella, the Prince finds her." Among these events, event B may be omitted. This is because, A is the cause of C, but B is not the cause of C. A⇢B⇢C is a story, and A→C is a plot. A story orders events from A to Z in time, and is different from a plot.
A plot needs only causal events. These famous scenes are not emphasized in the plot, such as "Rose spreads her hands on the bow" in Titanic (1997), "Building an ice palace" in Frozen (2013), and "The burning of Atlanta" in Gone with the Wind (1939). The above examples are not, or not much, affecting other events. By the same token, Steve Alcorn, a fiction-writing coach, says that, ultimately, 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.
Thus, a plot consists of the events which cause a change in the development of the story, and does not necessarily include the events concerned with empathy. Teri Shaffer Yamada, a professor at California State University, Long Beach, writes, "Plot - 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."
It was under these circumstances that, a plot is used to design a story. In screenwriting, the treatment contains the plot, and provides the fundamentals for the screenplay. It is a prose, but has not yet divided into scenes (as contrasted with the outline makes a few line summary of each scene). In addition, more than a few writers employ dozens of index cards.
Fabula and Syuzhet
A fabula is the events in the fictional world, and then, a syuzhet is a window onto the events. The literary theory of Russian Formalism in the early 20th century, divided a narrative into two elements: the fabula and the syuzhet. After that, Formalist followers transpose the fabula/syuzhet to the story/plot. Thereby, this definition is usually used in Narratology, in parallel with Forster's definition. The fabula ("Story") is what all happened in chronological order. In contrast, The syuzhet ("Plot") means how we know a sequence of discourse that was sorted out by the (implied) author. That is, the syuzhet consists of picking up the fabula events in non-chronological order; e.g., Fabula=<a1, a2, a3, a4, a5, ..., an>, Syuzhet=<a5, a1, a3>.
Generally, screenwriters combine plot with plot structure into treatment, then, this structure is referred to as the Three act structure. This structure divided the length of a film into three parts, namely, three acts. Their acts have each function of Set-up, Confrontation, and Resolution. Each act is connected by two Plot points (i.e., turning points), which Plot point I is Act I border with Act II, then, Plot point II is also similar. Syd Field, United States screenwriter, redefined the three act structure in that way, for a film analysis in 1979.
Before that time, Aristotle (Aristotelēs) previously, a Greek philosopher of the 4th century BC, who wrote The Poetics, says that a tragedy can be divided into three parts, in that classic book. After about 2,200 years, in 1863, Gustav Freytag, a German writer, advocated a five-phase model, what is termed "Freytag's pyramid," that divided a drama into five parts, then, provided function to each part, on the basis of Aristotle's theory of tragedy. These are described in the sections below.
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 to be a narrative structure that divides a story into five parts. These parts are: exposition (of the situation); rising action (through conflict); climax (or the turning point); falling action; and denouement.
The exposition introduces the main characters of the story. It shows how they relate to one another, their goals and motivations, and their moral character. The audience may have specific and well-focused questions about any of these aspects, and they will eventually get answered. Most importantly,the exposition allows the audience to get to know the main character (protagonist). Similarly, the protagonist gets to know their main goal and what is at stake.
The inciting incident is the point of the plot that begins the conflict. It is the event that catalyzes the protagonist to go into motion and to take action. "The Most Dangerous Game," a novel by Richard Connell, demonstrates two examples of inciting incidents.
In the first example, the protagonist went to the rail when he heard gunshots:
"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."
In the second example, the protagonist drops his pipe, and it falls 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 a conflict, such as the death of a character. Rising action involves the buildup of events until the climax.
"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 according to Quiller-Couch's mode of analysis, an entire story can be discussed in terms of conflict. Freytag's definition of conflict refers to the second act in a five-act play, a point of time in which all of the major characters have been introduced, their motives and allegiances have been made clear, and they have begun to struggle against one another.
In this phase, the protagonist understands his or her goal and begins to work toward it. Smaller problems thwart their initial success and their progress is directed primarily against these secondary obstacles. This phase demonstrates how the protagonist overcomes these obstacles.
In this phase, two or more people or groups disagree. This disagreement leads to the climax.
The climax is the turning point or highest point of the story. The protagonist makes the single big decision that defines not only the outcome of the story, but also who they are as a person. Freytag defines the climax as the third of the five dramatic phases which occupies the middle of the story.
At the beginning of this phase, the protagonist finally clears away the preliminary barriers and engages with the adversary. Usually, both the protagonist and the antagonist have a plan to win against the other as they enter this phase. For the first time, the audience sees the pair going against one another in direct or nearly direct conflict.
This struggle results in neither character completely winning or losing. In most cases, each character's plan is both partially successful and partially foiled by their adversary. The central struggle between the two characters in unique in that the protagonist makes a decision which shows their moral quality, and ultimately decides their fate. In a tragedy, the protagonist here makes a "bad" decision or a miscalculation that demonstrates their tragic flaw.
The climax often contains much of the action in a story--for example, a defining battle.
According to Freytag, the "falling action" phase consists of events that lead, in most cases, to a happy ending. Character's actions resolve the problem.
In the beginning of this phase, the villain has the upper hand. It seems that evil will triumph. The protagonist has never been further from accomplishing their goal. For Freytag, this is true both in tragedies and comedies, because both types of plots demonstrate how good wins over evil. The outcome depends on which side the protagonist has put themselves on. This may or may not be immediately clear to the audience.
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)
- Ansen Dibell, Ph.D. (1999-07-15). Plot. Elements of Fiction Writing. Writer's Digest Books. pp. 5 f. ISBN 978-0898799460.
Plot is built of significant events in a given story - significant because they have important consequences. Taking a shower isn't necessarily plot, or braiding one's hair, or opening a door. Let's call them incidents. They happen, but they don't lead to anything much. No important consequences. ……Cause and effect: that's what makes plot. ……Plot is the things characters do, feel, think or say, that make a difference to what comes afterward.
- Notes on the Ballad Form Fetched 16 October 2013
- Random House Dictionary. "plot."
- Oxford Dictionaries. "storyline."
- Prince, Gerald (2003-12-01). A Dictionary of Narratology (Revised ed. ed.). University of Nebraska Press. p. 73. ISBN 978-0803287761.
- Wales, Katie (2011-05-19). A Dictionary of Stylistics. Longman Linguistics (3 ed.). Routledge. p. 320. ISBN 978-1408231159.
- Steve Alcorn. "Know the Difference Between Plot and Story". Tejix. Archived from the original on 2014-08-23. Retrieved 2014-08-24.
- Teri Shaffer Yamada, Ph.D. "ELEMENTS OF FICTION". California State University, Long Beach. Archived from the original on 2014-12-20. Retrieved 2014-12-20.
- Seger, Linda (2013-12-01). "CHAPTER ONE: THE INDEX CARD APPROACH; THE OUTLINE; THE TREATMENT.". Making a Good Script Great (3 ed.). Silman-James Press. ASIN B005KC48VU.
- Aalto University. "Treatment". CinemaSense. Aalto University. Archived from the original on 2014-08-24. Retrieved 2014-08-25.
- Wales, Katie (2011-05-19). A Dictionary of Stylistics. Longman Linguistics (3 ed.). Routledge. pp. 320 f. ISBN 978-1408231159.
- Holland, Patricia (2004). The Television Handbook (2nd. ed.). 29 West 35th Street, New York, NY 10001: Routledge. p. 119. ASIN B00IGYVBGY.
- The Telegraph (2013-12-12). "Syd Field - obituary". Telegraph Media Group Limited. Archived from the original on 2014-08-23. Retrieved 2014-08-24.
- 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