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In a literary work, film, story or other
narrative A narrative, story or tale is any account of a series of related events or experiences, whether nonfictional (memoir, biography, news report, documentary, travelogue, etc.) or fictional (fairy tale, fable, legend, thriller, novel, etc.). Narrative ...
, the plot is the sequence of events where each affects the next one through the principle of cause-and-effect. The causal events of a plot can be thought of as a series of events linked by the connector "and so". Plots can vary from the simple—such as in a traditional
ballad A ballad is a form of verse, often a narrative set to music. Ballads derive from the medieval French ''chanson balladée'' or ''ballade'', which were originally "dance songs". Ballads were particularly characteristic of the popular poetry and so ...
—to forming complex interwoven structures, with each part sometimes referred to as a subplot or imbroglio. In common usage (for example, a "movie plot"), however, it can mean a
narrative A narrative, story or tale is any account of a series of related events or experiences, whether nonfictional (memoir, biography, news report, documentary, travelogue, etc.) or fictional (fairy tale, fable, legend, thriller, novel, etc.). Narrative ...
summary or story
synopsis A synopsis is a brief summary of the major points of a subject or written work or story, either as prose or as a table; an abridgment or condensation of a work. Synopsis or synopsys may also refer to: * ''Kievan Synopsis'', a historical work, first ...
, rather than a specific cause-and-effect sequence. Plot is similar in meaning to the term ''storyline''. In the narrative sense, the term highlights important points which have consequences within the story, according to
Ansen Dibell Ansen Dibell was the pen name used by Nancy Ann Dibble (September 8, 1942 – March 7, 2006), an American science fiction author, who also published books about fiction writing. Born in Staten Island, New York, she received her Master of Fine Arts d ...
. The term ''plot'' can also serve as a verb, referring to the writer's crafting of a plot (devising and ordering story events) or to a character's planning future actions in the story.


Definition

English novelist
E. M. Forster Edward Morgan Forster (1 January 1879 – 7 June 1970) was an English fiction writer, essayist and librettist. Many of his novels examine class difference and hypocrisy, including ''A Room with a View'' (1908), ''Howards End'' (1910) and ''A Pa ...
described plot as the cause-and-effect relationship between events in a story. According to Forster, "''The king died, and then the queen died,'' is a story, while ''The king died, and then the queen died of grief,'' is a plot." Teri Shaffer Yamada agrees that a plot does not include memorable scenes within a story which do not relate directly to other events but only "major events that move the action in a narrative." For example, in the 1997 film ''
Titanic RMS ''Titanic'' was a British passenger liner operated by the White Star Line that sank in the North Atlantic Ocean on 15 April 1912, after striking an iceberg during her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City. Of the estimated 2,22 ...
'', when Rose climbs on the railing at the front of the ship and spreads her hands as if she's flying, this scene is memorable but does not directly influence other events, so it may not be considered as part of the plot. Another example of a memorable scene which is not part of the plot occurs in the 1980 film ''
The Empire Strikes Back ''The Empire Strikes Back'', also known as ''Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back'', is a 1980 American epic space opera film directed by Irvin Kershner and written by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan, based on a story by George L ...
'', when Han Solo is frozen in carbonite.


Cinderella

Consider the following: ::#The prince searches for
Cinderella "Cinderella", or "The Little Glass Slipper", is a folk tale about oppression and triumphant reward. Thousands of variants are known throughout the world.Dundes, Alan. Cinderella, a Casebook. Madison, Wis: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988. The ...

Cinderella
with the glass shoe ::#Cinderella's sisters tried the shoe on but it does not fit ::#The shoe fits Cinderella's foot so the prince finds her The first event is causally related to the third event, while the second event, though descriptive, does not directly impact the outcome. As a result, according to Dibell, the plot can be described numerically as 1→3 while the story can be described as 1→2→3. A story orders events from beginning to end in a time sequence.


''The Wizard of Oz''

Steve Alcorn, a fiction-writing coach, says that the main plot elements of '' The Wizard of Oz'' are easy to find, and include:


Fabula and syuzhet

The literary theory of Russian Formalism in the early 20th century divided a narrative into two elements: the ''fabula'' (фа́була) and the ''syuzhet'' (сюже́т). A fabula is the events in the fictional world, whereas a syuzhet is a perspective of those events. Formalist followers eventually translated the fabula/syuzhet to the concept of story/plot. This definition is usually used in narratology, in parallel with Forster's definition. The ''fabula'' (story) is what happened in chronological order. In contrast, the ''syuzhet'' (plot) means a unique sequence of discourse that was sorted out by the (implied) author. That is, the syuzhet can consist of picking up the fabula events in non-chronological order; for example, fabula is 1, a2, a3, a4, a5, ..., an>, syuzhet is 5, a1, a3>. The Russian formalist,
Viktor Shklovsky Viktor Borisovich Shklovsky ( rus, Ви́ктор Бори́сович Шкло́вский, p=ˈʂklofskʲɪj; – 6 December 1984) was a Russian and Soviet literary theorist, critic, writer, and pamphleteer. He is one of the major figures associat ...
, viewed the syuzhet as the fabula defamiliarized.
DefamiliarizationDefamiliarization or ''ostranenie'' ( rus, остранение, p=ɐstrɐˈnʲenʲɪjə) is the artistic technique of presenting to audiences common things in an unfamiliar or strange way so they could gain new perspectives and see the world different ...
or “making strange,” a term Shklovsky coined and popularized, upends familiar ways of presenting a story, slows down the reader's perception, and makes the story appear unfamiliar. Shklovsky cites Lawrence Sterne's
Tristram ShandyTristram may refer to: Literature * the title character of ''The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman'', a novel by Laurence Sterne * the title character of ''Tristram of Lyonesse'', an epic poem by Algernon Charles Swinburne *"Tristram ...
as an example of a fabula that has been defamiliarized. Sterne uses temporal displacements, digressions, and causal disruptions (for example, placing the effects before their causes) to slow down the reader's ability to reassemble the (familiar) story. As a result, the syuzhet “makes strange” the fabula.


Structure

Today screenwriters generally combine plot with plot structure into what is called a
treatment Treatment may refer to: * "Treatment" (song), a 2012 song by * Film treatment, a prose telling of a story intended to be turned into a screenplay * Medical treatment or therapy * Sewage treatment * Surface treatment or surface finishing * Water tr ...
, sometimes referred to as the three-act structure, in which a film is divided into three acts: the ''set-up'', the ''confrontation'' and the ''resolution''. Acts are connected by two
plot point In television and film, a plot point is any incident, episode, or event that "hooks" into the action and spins it around into another direction. Noted screenwriting teacher Syd Field discusses plot points in his paradigm, popularized in his book ' ...
s or turning points, with the first turning point connecting Act I to Act II, and the second connecting Act II to Act III. The conception of the three-act structure has been attributed to American screenwriter
Syd Field:''For the British comedian, see Sid Field, for the actor see Sidney Fields'' Sydney Alvin Field (December 19, 1935November 17, 2013) was a leading American author and speaker who wrote several books on screenwriting, the first being ''Screenplay: T ...
who described plot structure in this tripartite way for film analysis.


Aristotle

The Greek philosopher
Aristotle Aristotle (; grc-gre, Ἀριστοτέλης ''Aristotélēs'', ; 384–322 BC) was a Greek philosopher and polymath during the Classical period in Ancient Greece. Taught by Plato, he was the founder of the Lyceum, the Peripatetic schoo ...

Aristotle
, writing in the fourth century BC in his classic book '' The Poetics'', considered plot or ''mythos'' as the most important element of drama, even more important than character. Aristotle wrote that a
tragedy Tragedy (from the grc-gre, τραγῳδία, ''tragōidia'', ''tragōidia'') is a form of drama based on human suffering and, mainly, the terrible or sorrowful events that befall a main character. Traditionally, the intention of tragedy is to ...
, a type of plot, could be divided into three parts: a beginning, a middle, and an end. He also believed that the events of the plot must causally relate to one another as being either necessary or probable. Of the utmost importance is the plot's ability to arouse emotion in the
psyche Psyche (''Psyché'' in French) is the Greek term for "soul" or "spirit" (ψυχή). It may also refer to: Psychology * Psyche (psychology), the totality of the human mind, conscious and unconscious * ''Psyche'' (book), an 1846 book about the unc ...
of the audience, he thought. In
tragedy Tragedy (from the grc-gre, τραγῳδία, ''tragōidia'', ''tragōidia'') is a form of drama based on human suffering and, mainly, the terrible or sorrowful events that befall a main character. Traditionally, the intention of tragedy is to ...
, the appropriate emotions are
fear Fear is an emotion induced by perceived danger or threat, which causes physiological changes and ultimately behavioral changes, such as mounting an aggressive response or fleeing the threat. Fear in human beings may occur in response to a certain ...
and
pity Pity is a sympathetic sorrow evoked by the suffering of others, and is used in a comparable sense to ''compassion'', ''condolence'' or ''empathy'' - the word deriving from the Latin ''pietās'' (etymon also of ''piety''). Self-pity is pity direc ...
, emotions which he considers in his
Rhetoric Rhetoric () is the art of persuasion, which along with grammar and logic (or dialectic – see Martianus Capella), is one of the three ancient arts of discourse. Rhetoric aims to study the techniques writers or speakers utilize to i ...
. (Aristotle's work on comedy has not survived.) Aristotle goes on to consider whether the tragic character suffers (pathos), and whether 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 rtisticallyis 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, for example, 
Haemon According to Sophocles' play ''Antigone'', Haemon {{IPAc-en, ˈ, h, iː, m, ɒ, n or Haimon (Ancient Greek: Αἵμων, ''Haimon'' "bloody"; ''gen''.: Αἵμωνος) was the mythological son of Creon and Eurydice, and thus brother of Menoeceus (Megar ...
and
Creon Creon (; grc, Κρέων, Kreōn, ruler), is a figure in Greek mythology best known as the ruler of Thebes in the legend of Oedipus. Family Creon had four sons and three daughters with his wife, Eurydice (sometimes known as Henioche): Henioche, ...
in ''
Antigone In Greek mythology, Antigone ( ; Ancient Greek: Ἀντιγόνη) is the daughter of Oedipus and either his mother Jocasta or Euryganeia. She is a sister of Polynices, Eteocles, and Ismene.Roman, L., & Roman, M. (2010). The meaning of the name ...
''. 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 {{no footnotes, date=March 2012 In Greek mythology, Cresphontes ( grc, Κρεσφόντης) was a son of Aristomachus, husband of Merope, father of Aepytus and brother of Temenus and Aristodemus. He was a great-great-grandson of Heracles and helped ...
, for example, where Merope, on the point of slaying her son, recognizes him in time; in
Iphigenia In Greek mythology, Iphigenia (; grc, Ἰφιγένεια, , ) was a daughter of King Agamemnon and Queen Clytemnestra, and thus a princess of Mycenae. In the story, Agamemnon offends the goddess Artemis on his way to the Trojan War by accidental ...
, 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

In 1863, Gustav Freytag, a German writer, advocated a model based upon Aristotle's theory of tragedy. This is now called "Freytag's pyramid," which divides a drama into five parts, and provides function to each part. These parts are: exposition (originally called introduction), rising action (rise), climax, falling action (return or fall), and denouement (catastrophe).


Exposition

The first phase in Freytag's pyramid is the exposition, which introduces the characters, especially the main character, also known as the protagonist. It shows how the characters relate to one another, their goals and motivations, as well as their moral character. During the exposition, the protagonist learns their main goal and what is at stake.


Rising action

Rising action is the second phase in Freytag's five-phase structure. It starts with a conflict, for example, the death of a character. 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. Rising action involves the buildup of events until the climax. 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.


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 usually 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 is 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 poor decision or a miscalculation that demonstrates their tragic flaw.


Falling action

According to Freytag, the falling action phase consists of events that lead to the ending. Character's actions resolve the problem. In the beginning of this phase, the antagonist often has the upper hand. The protagonist has never been further from accomplishing their goal. The outcome depends on which side the protagonist has put themselves on.


Denouement

In this phase the protagonist and antagonist have solved their problems and either the protagonist or antagonist wins the conflict. The conflict officially ends. Some stories show what happens to the characters after the conflict ends and/or they show what happens to the characters in the future.


Northrop Frye

The influential Canadian literary critic and literary theorist Northrop Frye offers two dramatic structures to analyze narratives: (1) a U-shaped pattern, which is the shape of a comedy, and (2) an inverted U-shaped pattern, which is the shape of a tragedy.


A U-shaped pattern

“This U-shaped pattern…recurs in literature as the standard shape of comedy, where a series of misfortunes and misunderstandings brings the action to a threateningly low point, after which some fortunate twist in the plot sends the conclusion up to a happy ending.”Frye, 169. A U-shaped plot begins at the top of the U with a state of equilibrium, a state of prosperity or happiness, which is disrupted by disequilibrium or disaster. At the bottom of the U, the direction is reversed by a fortunate twist, divine deliverance, an awakening of the protagonist to his or her tragic circumstances, or some other action or event that results in an upward turn of the plot. Aristotle referred to the reversal of direction as peripeteia or peripety, which depends frequently on a recognition or discovery by the protagonist. Aristotle called this discovery an anagnorisis—a change from “ignorance to knowledge” involving “matters which bear on prosperity or adversity”. The protagonist recognizes something of great importance that was previously hidden or unrecognized. The reversal occurs at the bottom of the U and moves the plot upward to a new stable condition marked by prosperity, success, or happiness. At the top of the U, equilibrium is restored.


An inverted U-shaped structure

The inverted U begins with the protagonist’s rise to a position of prominence and well-being. At the top of the inverted U, the character enjoys good fortune and well-being. But a crisis or a turning point occurs, which marks the reversal of the protagonist’s fortunes and begins the descent to disaster. Sometimes a recognition scene occurs where the protagonist sees something of great importance that was previously unrecognized. The final state is disaster and adversity, the bottom of the inverted U.


Plot devices

A plot device is a means of advancing the plot in a story. It is often used to motivate characters, create urgency, or resolve a difficulty. This can be contrasted with moving a story forward with dramatic technique; that is, by making things happen because characters take action for well-developed reasons. An example of a plot device would be when the cavalry shows up at the last moment and saves the day in a battle. In contrast, an adversarial character who has been struggling with himself and saves the day due to a change of heart would be considered dramatic technique. Familiar types of plot devices include the ''
deus ex machina ''Deus ex machina'' ( , ; plural: ''dei ex machina''; English ‘god from the machine’) is a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem in a story is suddenly and abruptly resolved by an unexpected and unlikely occurrence. Its function ...
'', the
MacGuffin In fiction, a MacGuffin (sometimes McGuffin) is an object, device, or event that is necessary to the plot and the motivation of the characters, but insignificant, unimportant, or irrelevant in itself. The term was originated by Angus MacPhail for ...
, the
red herring A red herring is something that misleads or distracts from a relevant or important question.''Oxford English Dictionary''. red herring, n. Third edition, September 2009; online version December 2011. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/160314 ; accesse ...

red herring
, and
Chekhov's gun Chekhov's gun (Chekhov's rifle, russian: Чеховское ружьё) is a dramatic principle that states that every element in a story must be necessary, and irrelevant elements should be removed. Elements should not appear to make "false promise ...
.


Plot outline

A plot outline is a prose telling of a story which can be turned into a screenplay. Sometimes it is called a "one page" because of its length. It is generally longer and more detailed than a standard synopsis, which is usually only one or two paragraphs, but shorter and less detailed than a treatment or a step outline. In comics, the roughs refer to a stage in the development where the story has been broken down very loosely in a style similar to storyboarding in film development. This stage is also referred to as storyboarding or layouts. In Japanese manga, this stage is called the ''nemu'' (pronounced like the English word "name"). The roughs are quick sketches arranged within a suggested page layout. The main goals of roughs are to: * lay out the flow of panels across a page * ensure the story successfully builds suspense * work out points of view, camera angles, and character positions within panels * serve as a basis for the next stage of development, the "pencil" stage, where detailed drawings are produced in a more polished layout which will, in turn, serve as the basis for the inked drawings. 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".


A-Plot

An ''A-Plot'' is a and
television Television (TV), sometimes shortened to tele or telly, is a telecommunication medium used for transmitting moving images in monochrome (black and white), or in color, and in two or three dimensions and sound. The term can refer to a televisi ...

television
term referring to the plotline that drives the story. This does not necessarily mean it is the most important, but rather the one that forces most of the action.


Plot summary

A plot summary is a brief description of a piece of literature that explains what happens. In a plot summary, the author and title of the book should be referred to and it is usually no more than a paragraph long while summarizing the main points of the story.


See also

*
Gustav Freytag Gustav Freytag (; 13 July 1816 – 30 April 1895) was a German novelist and playwright. Life Freytag was born in Kreuzburg (Kluczbork) in Silesia. After attending the school at Oels (Oleśnica), he studied philology at the universities of Bres ...
*
Monomyth In narratology and comparative mythology, the hero's journey, or the monomyth, is the common template of stories that involve a hero who goes on an adventure, is victorious in a decisive crisis, and comes home changed or transformed. Earlier fi ...
*
Mythos (Aristotle) Mythos rom Ancient Greek μῦθος ''mûthos''is the term used by Aristotle in his ''Poetics'' (c. 335 BCE) to mean an Athenian tragedy's plot as a "representation of an action" or "the arrangement of the incidents" that "represents the action". A ...
*
Narrative A narrative, story or tale is any account of a series of related events or experiences, whether nonfictional (memoir, biography, news report, documentary, travelogue, etc.) or fictional (fairy tale, fable, legend, thriller, novel, etc.). Narrative ...
*
Narrative structure Narrative structure is a literary element generally described as the structural framework that underlies the order and manner in which a narrative is presented to a reader, listener, or viewer. The narrative text structures are the plot and the se ...
*
Narrative thread A narrative thread, or plot thread (or, more ambiguously, a storyline), refers to particular elements and techniques of writing to center the story in the action or experience of characters rather than to relate a matter in a dry "all-knowing" sort ...
*
Plot drift Plot drift, or narrative drift, is a phenomenon in storytelling in which the plot of the story deviates from its apparent initial direction. The phenomenon can affect written works, although it is often more noticeable in performed media such as tel ...
*
Plot hole In fiction, a plot hole, plothole or plot error is a gap or inconsistency in a storyline that goes against the flow of logic established by the story's plot. Such inconsistencies include things as illogical, unlikely or impossible events, and statem ...
*
Premise (narrative) The premise of a text such as a book, film, or screenplay is the initial state of affairs that drives the plot. Most premises can be expressed very simply, and many films can be identified simply from a short sentence describing the premise. For ...
* Robert McKee *
Scene and sequelScene and sequel are two types of written passages used by authors to advance the plot of a story. ''Scenes'' propel a story forward as the character attempts to achieve a goal.Swain, p. 84-85. ''Sequels'' provide an opportunity for the character to ...
*
SubplotIn fiction, a subplot is a secondary strand of the plot that is a supporting side story for any story or the main plot. Subplots may connect to main plots, in either time and place or in thematic significance. Subplots often involve supporting chara ...
*
Syd Field:''For the British comedian, see Sid Field, for the actor see Sidney Fields'' Sydney Alvin Field (December 19, 1935November 17, 2013) was a leading American author and speaker who wrote several books on screenwriting, the first being ''Screenplay: T ...
:
Three-act structure The three-act structure is a model used in narrative fiction that divides a story into three parts (acts), often called the Setup, the Confrontation, and the Resolution. It has been described in different ways by Aelius Donatus in the fourth cen ...

Three-act structure
in screenplays and films *
Theme (narrative) In contemporary literary studies, a theme is a central topic, subject, or message within a narrative. Themes can be divided into two categories: a work's ''thematic concept'' is what readers "think the work is about" and its ''thematic statement'' b ...
* '' The Seven Basic Plots'', a book by
Christopher Booker Christopher John Penrice Booker (7 October 1937 – 3 July 2019) was an English journalist and author. He was a founder and contributor of the satirical magazine ''Private Eye'' in 1961. From 1990 onward he was a columnist for ''The Sunday Telegr ...
* ''
The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations ''The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations'' is a descriptive list which was created by Georges Polti to categorize every dramatic situation that might occur in a story or performance. To do this Polti analyzed classical Greek texts, plus classical and c ...
'', which is Georges Polti's categorization of every dramatic situation that might occur in a story or performance.


Notes


References

* *


Further reading

* * *


External links


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

Plot Definition, meaning and examples

The Minimal Plot, on cyclic structures of the basic plots by Yevgeny Slavutin and Vladimir Pimonov.
{{Authority control Plot (narrative), Narrative techniques