Plot and story are not the same thing.
Story: All subsystems of a story working together: premise, character, morals, world, symbol, plot, scene, dialogue etc.
Plot: The combinations of what happens and how these events are revealed to the audience. The order and arrangement create specific meanings.
The requirements of dramatic plot
1 Plot requires a protagonist, who will take action to achieve something.
2 The protagonist then meets with conflict, which he must overcome.
3 When it’s over, the story must mean something.
So what is plot specifically?
Plot is whatever happens in a story. Plot is built on significant events in a given story. They are significant because they have important consequences. Unimportant events, such as closing a door or braiding your hair are incidents. They don’t have important consequences, unless you are Rapunzel, in which case they are crucial actions. So what makes plot? Cause and effect. On event leads to another event.
Plot is the things the characters do, feel, think or say. Thought and emotion becomes part of plot when it becomes action and causes reactions. No thought in itself is plot. Any action, however small, may be crucial to the plot. Plotting consists of deciding what is important to show and thus connect major events of your story.
Attitudes become motives, meeting resistance, creating conflict and leading to consequences – it becomes plot. Something has to be seen to matter and to change. The story has to move.
The cause-and-effect path of plot
Scenes have a cause-effect relationship with each other. In a good plot, nothing is coincidental. The story is a domino effect from the moment of the inciting incident. One thing leads to another, one thing causes another. Every scene is a mini-story, with a scene problem and a scene resolution that is tied to the master plot.
The action-consequence sequence
- The inciting incident creates the character’s initial surface problem and introduces the first inkling of the story-worthy problem.
- The protagonist takes steps to resolve the initial surface problem.
- The outcome of the major action the protagonist takes to resolve the initial surface problem is revealed, triggering a new surface problem. The scope of the protagonist’s story-worthy problem continues to unfold.
- The outcome of the major action the protagonist takes to resolve the additional surface problem is revealed, and yet another surface problem is created. The story-worthy problem continues to become more apparent to the protagonist, as well as to the reader.
- Another outcome is revealed, and more surface problems are created. The story-worthy problem continues to become clearer.
- All lingering surface problems are resolved, and the story-worthy problem is fully realized. The resolution of the story-worthy problem is represented by both a win and a loss for the protagonist.
- shows the actions leading to character change / explains why the change is impossible
- each event is connected through cause-and-effect
- each event is essential
- each action is proportionate in length and pacing
- it comes naturally from the main characters
- the sequence of events have unity and totality of effect
Cowgill, L. (2008) The Art of Plotting – Add Emotion, Suspense and Depth to your Screenplay.
Truby, J. (2007) The Anatomy of Story.