In narrative, plot is a literary technique; it is the rendering and ordering of the events and actions of a story, particularly towards the achievement of some particular artistic or emotional effect. Plot is generally distinguished from the actions of the story. That actions that are narrated take place in a certain sequential order. The plot may follow that sequential, or chronological order, or, for artistic effect, it may relate the actions in a different order. For example, one of the most common ways in which plot alters the sequence of narrated events is know as in media res, from the Latin meaning "in the middle of the action." This is a technique that is common in detective fiction, the goal of which is to grab the reader or viewers attention quickly and immerse them into the narrative.
Narratives in which the action of the story is primary, such as an Ian Fleming James Bond novel, are often referred to as plot-driven. This is opposed to a novel like Ivan Goncharov's Oblomov, in which the first sixty or so pages narrates the character getting out of bed. Such works are said to be character-driven, in which the inner state of the character is the main focus.
Plot can be found in any sequential ordering of events to convey ideas. It does not exist in spatial art, "… which presents its materials simultaneously, or in a random order…." However, "… a succession of of similar pictures which can be arranged in a meaningful order (like Hogarth's "Rake's Progress") begins to have a plot because it begins to have a dynamic sequential existence."
Plot is often schematically represented as an arc reflecting the rising action described in the following phases:
This schema owes some to Aristotle's instruction that plot should be composed of "a beginning, a middle, and an end" in his famous work on Greed tragedy, the Poetics. As with all such generalizations, the schemata has some merit but fails to account for the totality of different plot possibilities.
Aristotle discussed plot in his classic work on tragedy, Poetics. According to Aristotle's Poetics, Tragedy contains 6 parts: Plot, character, diction, reasoning, spectacular, and lyric poetry. “Plot (mythos) is the source and soul of tragedy followed in decreasing order of importance by the character (ethe), thought (dianonia), language (lexis), and music and stagecraft.” “Of the six parts of tragedy, plot, characters, diction (speech), thought, spectacle, song (cf. VI, 1449b 31–1450b 21) the plot is not only the "most important part" but even "the first principle, and, as it were, the soul of a tragedy; the characters come only in second place." “The plot must be 'complete' and 'whole' in that it must have a clearly recognizable beginning, middle, and end. That is why good plots should neither begin nor end haphazardly," but be linked by causal necessity or probability; one criterion for the "completeness" of a plot is "that the whole plot will be disjointed and disturbed if any one of its parts is displaced or removed." For Aristotle, the purpose of tragedy was catharsis of emotion. Thus, the goal of the plot was to produce affect in the viewer. “The emotional effect peculiar to the tragic action is therefore that of promoting the experience of feelings such as pity and terror, which constitutes the ultimate end at which the representation of the mythos aims.”
While Aristotle recognized the importance of plot, his own injunction about a "beginning, middle, and end" has often been interpreted, or misinterpreted as preferring chronological ordering to narrative. However, even in Greek tragedy, such as Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, the order of the events narrated is far different from the sequence in which they are related. The murder of Oedipus' father and the marriage to his mother all took place well before the story begins. Sophocles uses the relating of those events to create his dramatic irony, as the audience is already well aware of what Oedipus is finding out—that he is the man for whom he searches.
To address this difference between the sequence of events and the sequence of their narration, the Russian Formalists, especially Viktor Shklovsky and Boris Eichenbaum, introduced the distinction between fabula and sjezhet. Previously, plot was considered to be a part of the content. However, the formalists argued convincingly that the plot was part of the formal property of the text.
The fabula, or fable was the basic material from which the story was constructed—what the Formalists referred to as the literary быть (byt), or the given. In one famous example, the быть (byt), or fabula of Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina was described as the story of an adultress who meets an unhappy end. However, the sjuzhet, or plot of the story is the twists and turns of the narrative based on the author's deployment of the literary devices used to tell the story. The fabula refers to what is narrated, the sjuzhet, or plot, refers to the sequence in which it is told.
In order to construct the plot, the author uses a variety of plot techniques, or devices. Plot devices are the literary techniques that the author uses to advance the plot. The author's narrative style is based on the types of narrative techniques or plot device that the author employs. Plot devices are employed by the author as part of the artistic strategy. It is part of the storytelling technique, not part of the events that are narrated.
There are numerous stock plot devices which authors employ. The author's uniqueness will depend on which devices he/she employs and in what manner. These literary techniques are not limited to plotting, but include language, character, point of view among others. An example of some plot devices include:
In addition to the main plot, a story may have one or more subplots. The subplot is a secondary plot strand that is auxiliary to the main plot. The main plot is sometimes called the A-Plot while a subplot may be referred to as the B-Plot or even C-Plot. Subplots may connect to main plots, in either time and place or in thematic significance. Subplots often involve supporting characters, those besides the protagonist or antagonist.
Subplots are distinguished from the main plot by taking up less of the action, having less significant events occur, with less impact on the 'world' of the work, and occurring to less important characters. When, as in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's Cancer Ward, about a group of patients at that ward, no one character's story clearly predominates, the plots will not be distinguished into the main plot and subplots. Because of their brevity, short stories and to a large extent, novellas, mostly contain no subplot.
While plot is an element of fiction, there are element of plot in any form of storytelling. A number of historians in the late twentieth century addressed the issue of plot as it pertained to history writing. Epistemological historian Paul Veyne (1971: 46-47; English trans. by Min Moore-Rinvolucri 1984: 32-33) applies the concept to real-life events, defining plot as “the fabric of history,” a system of interconnected historical facts:
Facts do not exist in isolation, in the sense that the fabric of history is what we shall call a plot, a very human and not very ‘scientific’ mixture of material causes, aims, and chances—a slice of life, in short, that the historian cuts as he [sic] wills and in which facts have their objective connections and relative importance… the word plot has the advantage of reminding us that what the historian studies is as human as a play or a novel… then what are the facts worthy of rousing the interest of the historian? All depends on the plot chosen; a fact is interesting or uninteresting… in history as in the theater, to show everything is impossible—not because it would require too many pages, but because there is no elementary historical fact, no event worthy atom. If one ceases to see events in their plots, one is sucked into the abyss of the infinitesimal.
New World Encyclopedia writers and editors rewrote and completed the Wikipedia article in accordance with New World Encyclopedia standards. This article abides by terms of the Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License (CC-by-sa), which may be used and disseminated with proper attribution. Credit is due under the terms of this license that can reference both the New World Encyclopedia contributors and the selfless volunteer contributors of the Wikimedia Foundation. To cite this article click here for a list of acceptable citing formats.The history of earlier contributions by wikipedians is accessible to researchers here:
The history of this article since it was imported to New World Encyclopedia: