Monday, October 14, 2013

What and Why Is a Plot?

When I was in grade school, I learned about plots. I was given a diagram that looked something like this:
As students, we were taught to write stories that matched this diagram, always introducing conflict at a certain point (the inciting incident) and so on. I never really understood what everything meant, though, in fact I still don't. I don't think I ever really knew what exactly a climax in a story is. Looking back on it, I realize that a message I somehow got from all this was that all stories should fit this diagram, and few of the stories that I read actually did in a way that made any sense to me.

There are multiple problems with this idea, when I look back on it now. For one thing, the diagram is an oversimplification. Many stories have plots that include these plot elements, but they aren't necessarily well-defined, or in this particular order, or occurring only once in the story.

Another problem, which is more notable to me, is that this plot structure is just one aspect of creative writing. I was taught to write stories like this, and I found it to be constraining and unintuitive. As soon as I let go of the idea of plots, specifically formulaic ones, I had this realization of "I can take a story wherever I want." It was liberating. And yet it seems so obvious.

I know plots can have different forms, but now I often reject the idea of plots as applied to my own work, because I associate them with this idea that fiction should be a certain way. I write Think Before You Think, and I never say that it has a plot - to me it's just a somewhat spontaneous progression of events, and if a plot somehow happens to it, then sobeit.


  1. I aree with you on the limitations of this explanation of plot. but if a story has action, it has a plot. There is a structure might not be this structure, but you structure the events to form a story.(ok they might 'happen' intuitively at first, but when you look back on what you wrote you either think it makes sense like this, keep it, and thus found your structure, or you change the structure of the events to make it a sensible story. Even a stream of consciousness in a work of fiction has a certain structure, because the author ordered the stream of consciousness in that exact place. I believe that it is rare for a story to completely be void of plotting. Just my 2 cents.. but great thinking! Joyce

    1. Yeah, I think that's true. You can define a plot as being the structure of any story. That's part of the reason why I think it's limiting that plot was presented to me this way in school.