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‘What’s the difference between Plot and Story?’ I struggled to grasp the difference in the beginning. Here’s how I figured it out: (this has been update for clarity)
Janet Burroway is incredible, so I’ll paraphrase her explanation of these two terms:
A story is a series of events recorded in their chronological order. A plot is a series of events deliberately arranged so as to reveal their dramatic, thematic, and emotional significance.
So, when a reader begins a book wondering: “What’s this book going to be about?”
Story is the sequence of events leading to the answer. Plot is the step-by-step process of getting to the answer with emphasis on causality.
Grandad died – then Nanna died,’ is a story. ‘Granddad died – then Nanna died of grief,’ is a plot.
One caused the other.
For story we ask, ‘Then what happens?’ For plot we ask, ‘Yeah, but why?’
Of course, these two interact because narrative is ‘an account of connected events’ so we need plausible events which happen within the world the characters inhabit for readers to believe that each connected event would cause the narrated experience.
I hope this makes sense 🙂
However, even this connection is not enough to keep a reader reading. Every publisher and every writer knows — Story is king.
This requires not just great characterisation, which inspires story, and not just a riveting situation in which the character finds themselves, though this can also inspire story.
What’s happening won’t keep us reading. Neither will who the character is.
The uncertainty of this combination however, brings crisis and forces the character(s) to act (to move plot forward and to experience change) and asks: ‘What will happen next?’ which does keep those pages turning.
This is the promise a writer makes to the reader. They promise their story will be worthy of their time and it will take them on a journey worth travelling, which begins with the title and ends on the last page.
As readers, we’ve all had this feeling, right? 🙂