Do you want to know what really is embarrassing? When you think you know something although in fact you don’t.
When you follow this post by Kevin Koch and the comments, you will see that I contributed my thoughts to it. This includes my understanding of the small little word “plot”. And you know what? I screwed up. So here is the deal: you have fun reading while I start my research engine, dive into the worlds of “plot” and “story” and will try to make clear what they mean.

Story and Plot, Aristotle and Forster

On the search for the right definitions and explanations regarding “plot” and “story” Wikipedia comes to mind as it is in many ways an (not always) adequate start for a research. Yet this time it seems that Wikipedia is of no big help as it states:

In fiction a plot or storyline is all the events in a story, particularly rendered towards the achievement of some particular artistic or emotional effect. In other words it’s what mostly happened in the story.

Although it casts some light onto the possible difference, the last sentence complicated the things again a little bit.

So to try to find the correct answer we can go back in time to Aristotle who wrote about “story” and “plot” (which he called “mythos”). And Aristotle clears things up quite a bit: stories, for Aristotle, are all actions in the world in which we live in, whereas a plot/mythos consists of elements (units) which are selected and arranged out of the stories.

A modern definition that goes in line with Aristotle is E.M. Forster who wrote that a story is a series of events recorded in their logical order while a plot is a series of events deliberately arranged so as to reveal their dramatic, thematic and emotional significance.

Robin Hood and Scrooge

Although I still have some problems with the true understanding I think I have cracked the surface with the following example: Robin Hood.

We all know this green dressed guy and his arrows. Although we know he is more or less a myth let’s assume for a while that Robin Hood would really have lived in Sherwood Forrest with Little John, his friends and his enemy the Sheriff. All movies that have been made in the past decades could then be taken as different plots that tell the same story: the guy steals from the rich, loves Marian and fights the evil forces.

Another example might be A CHRISTMAS CAROL, the classic tale by Dickens about Ebenezer Scrooge. When we again assume that all main events of ACC would have happened in the past, all movies that deal with this source material would be different telling or plots of the same basic story we all know too well. In principle we could go to the extreme by taking SCROOGED into account. This movie with Bill Murray would be the same story of Scrooge because all the same main events happen (Murray starts as an asshole, his old friend warns him of the future, three ghosts visit him and so on). Yet the plot couldn’t be more different than this. The characters are different, many characters are new, the situation is completely different (modern setting), yet it is still a version of ACC.

Story and Plot

So, in the end and by taking the above examples into account I would say that a story is the basic layer of a movie, the most basic and important events. A plot would then be the telling of the writer, the structure (conflict, climax, resolution; scenes, sequences), feelings, reasoning, the how.

Well, that’s for the moment. I must say that this dive into the worlds of story and plot were a lot of fun and I certainly learned a lot today. Yet there is always a small possibility that I again screwed up.

But that is OK, because nothing’s better than some discussion about those terms to learn more. So, what do you think? What is a story, what is a plot? Did I misunderstand something or understand everything? Or do you disagree? Let me know!

Photo: drhunter

Comments

  • Great job digging into the subject and learning some new ideas! You’ve done what too few people are willing to do. ‘Story’ and ‘plot’ are fascinating and tricky subjects, but I think by digging into these subjects we understand things more clearly.

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