TO PLOT OR NOT TO PLOT: Part 2 – Taking a Closer Look at Story

Be sure to read the first part of this essay:  Terminology and the Difference Between Narrative and Story

Taking a Closer Look at Story:

Every novel should have a story (unless of course it’s something experimental, but for the purposes of this essay let’s focus on stories). Scholastic editor Cheryl Klein says “a story is what happens”(1). That seems a little vague, so let’s dig deeper. Novelist Amy Atwell points out that stories are linear, a story “start(s) at Point A and follow(s) a logical progression of time-bound events that lead the character to Point B”(1). Forester, as mentioned above, gave us the example of “The King died” (point A) “and then the Queen died” (point B). Here we have the most basic element of a story, two events: “The King died and then the Queen died.” But for the novelist a story is more complex than two events. Story encompasses all events and all things that have happened in the lives of the characters. LearningNerd Blogger Liz, says story is “like history,” pointing out that story includes all chronological events that we may see play out in a novel, but it also includes the backstory, as well as events that may not end up in the final book.  In film, “story” is given its own specific term: the fabula. Film theorist David Bordwell says “in film, the fabula is not given to the audience; it is constructed based on what they see”(Ashmore). His point is the events presented to an audience allow them to imagine the story behind it and make connections between the events. Klien has a similar concept of story, and says that while in the drafting process the author’s “job in the first draft is to write the story, get the events down, find out who these people are and what they do.” Similarly, the film society Pacific Cinematheque says, “story is about trying to determine the key conflicts, main characters, setting and events … and should be concerned with the questions of ‘who’, ‘what,’ and ‘where.’” It looks as if story is chronological and it encompasses all the events, settings, and characters within a story-world. Story exists without judgment like a chronological history, it’s as Cheryl Klein said: “what happens.”

So you’ve got a Story, but do you have a plot?

Up Next: Part 3 – Got Plot?

** Full Bibliography will be provided at end of blog-post series.

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