Plot and story are both essential to writing good fiction. Make sure you know what they are and how to use them in your writing
You’re starting to write your book or piece of short fiction. You know there’s a story to tell and you also know you need a plot. But aren’t story and plot the same thing?
No, they’re not. They are related, and you can’t have plot without story, but they are not the same, and you need to think about both of them.
Let’s consider plot vs story
Story is the timeline: the sequence of events in your narrative. The point of a plot is to support a story: to make a story come to life. The basic ‘story’ question is ‘what happens next?’ Plot is what happens: the sequence of events inside a story. The basic question we ask about a plot is why? Why does this event happen?
Here’s the fundamental difference as defined by a great writer – EM Forster, the author of A Room With A View. He puts it succinctly: plot is ‘a narrative of events, with the emphasis on causality… The king died and then the queen died is a story. The king died and the queen died of grief’ is a plot.’
Stories are everywhere: in our everyday life, in books, on the news. In life we are surrounded by stories, and they can be fact or fiction.
A story is a sequence of events, and these may be fictional or real. You can create them, imagine them, remember them. When we tell someone ‘this happened to me today’, we are telling them a story.
It helps to think of a story as a journey that starts in one place and ends up somewhere else.
All the fiction we write has a story at its heart. To create a story, imagine a sequence of events. Beginning, middle, end. By the end, something has changed – your character’s life, circumstances, emotions – and whatever that is will give you a clue about how you plot your fiction.
Plot is a literary device that enables you to tell your story. Once you have a story in mind, you can decide how you are going to plot it.
Plot is the events that make up a story. When you are plotting your story, it is up to you to decide how you organize these events to make the plot that tells your story in the best way. Your story’s structure will be based on how you decide to plot it.
To create a plot, you might start with the characters: what is it about them that provides the drama that will create the sequence of events in your story? Or you could think about the key events in your story and how best to arrange them to create a plot. If you are plotting a crime story, you will know what the key crime is but where will you put it in your narrative to create the most effective plot? If you’re writing a romance, where do you put the life-changing encounter between the two lovers? Is it the beginning of the story, or the end?
Plot is not only about how you handle the events in your story, but how you hold a reader’s interest. When you are creating a plot for your story, you will have to consider things like: what happens when; when to reveal information; when to withhold information; when to introduce a character and what to show about them that will add to the story you are telling.
If you have created an effective plot, everything in it will keep your reader turning the pages of your story.
Now let’s put plot vs story into practice and look at how it works in your writing
Think of a basic story. The princess kissed the frog and it turned into a prince.
Now think of the beginnings of several different plots round that story. For instance:
1) Rom-com: She kissed the frog and it told her an anecdote about her schooldays so she realised it was the person she fell in love with when she was 12 that she thought she’d never see again.
2) Thriller: She kissed the frog and it turned into a crack secret agent on a mission to kidnap her as a way of creating political instability.
3) Crime: She kissed the frog and died horribly because there was poison on its lips – it was the signature that had earned the serial killer the nickname ‘Frogman’.
What else can you come up with in terms of a plot based on that storyline? You can see that the possibilities are endless.
• Here are some more stories. Try creating at least three plots based on each story.
1) He caught the bus as usual and sat next to a person who changed his life.
2) She set off for the market but she never came home.
3) They found true love before they died.
Plotting a story
Having come up with your story, the next step is to plot it. Whether you are writing a short story or a full-length novel, your story will need you to build a plot. Of course the plot will need to be more complex and involved if you are writing a longer story, but even a piece of micro-fiction will have key plot elements.
Thinking about plot vs story in the light of what you’ve just read, can you see how story and plot are different, but related? To achieve a successful narrative – to tell your story in the best way – you need to create both a story and a plot: a sequence of events that takes the reader on a journey from beginning to end, and a plot that allows you tell the story in the most effective way. We are sure you have some fantastic stories waiting for you to plot them – happy writing!
Ready for the next step?
Once you have your story set out and feel ready and confident to share it with the world, be sure to have it critiqued first by a professional writer. You will gain valuable feedback on your work and practical advice on how to present your writing to an agent. CLICK HERE to learn more.