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Terry D
March 27th, 2018, 09:51 PM
Kyle R suggested I start a thread to discuss my #2 writing 'rule' posted in the 'My Writing Rules' thread. I don't know how much discussion it will generate, but here goes.

The 'rule' as i wrote it is this:

Focus on story above all else (not plot -- story -- there's a difference).

To me the difference is easy to see; plot is made up of the events which happen in your book. The story is how you weave those events into a fully functional rug using characters, setting, and your own voice.

The plot of Jaws is simple; A great white shark stakes out a feeding ground off the beaches of an island and starts eating people, threatening the summer tourist trade. Three men with wildly different backgrounds set out on a boat to kill the shark. Ta da.

The story of Jaws is far more complex and involves the relationships between the men (how many of you know that, in the book, the marine biologist Hooper has an affair with Sheriff Brody's wife, and is also eaten by the shark?), the island culture of Amity, the tension between Quint and the townsfolk, the dialogue, the setting, and so forth.

Plot is part of story, but just a part. Too many new writers think, just because they have a neat idea, they have a story. They don't. Plots without story are boring. Taking that plot and developing it into something bigger, something engaging, is the essence of storytelling.

moderan
March 27th, 2018, 10:12 PM
Hell. I know 'professionals' that think that. I'm relatively unversed in the details of story as I get 'centipeded' easily. It's simpler for me to just invent what I need atm than to try to remember what a participle is. But even such a yutz as me knows that plot isn't story. Character is story, right?
*laughs*
Oh wait, that'd be litfic. Adventure is story? Extrapolation is story?
Interaction is story. Therefore conflict is plot?
Wait. This is hard.
I hated that affair, btw. Better off out of the movie, even though it titillated the fourteen-year-old me.
Sooo, life is story? Or story is life?
I know people who have the entire story be personal interaction and dispense with plot. They go to dinner with Andre and the audience is left waiting for Godot.
Here's a plot:
Call me, Ishmael. We're having a great white sale. Ahab is in rehab and we need the shekels.
Feel free to lampoon me for such silliness but the story often lies between the lines.


eta: 171-word flash fiction. Heh.

Blackstone
March 29th, 2018, 03:05 AM
Absolutely agree with this.

I tutor part-time and sometimes play a little game with the kids by having them think of the last movie they enjoyed and then ask them to write a paragraph-long synopsis sticking only to what actually happens on-screen.

I ask them to try to avoid using any emotive language and anything about the characters other than their name and/or what they are (anima/vegetable/mineral) and simply write what they see/hear. I tell them to think like aliens who don't know what things like 'love' or 'greed' or 'jealousy' or 'pride' are and avoid attributing those kinds of words. Once they understand what I am asking for (which takes awhile) we have some fun reading out the result. From what I remember one kid wrote Toy Story something like this.

"A doll called Woody is leader and king of the toys that live in a boy's bedroom and only move and speak when the boy is not there. When the boy receives a new doll called Buzz for his birthday Woody begins to compete for the boy's time and resources only to be superseded by the newer doll. After both dolls accidentally fall into the hands of another boy king they end up attempting to escape and eventually succeed in escaping."

I believe what was written was mostly accurate as far as an overview of the plot but of course when I asked the other kids if that was the entire movie it was a no. So we then talked about what was missing and, of course, it was everything that actually mattered. Even when the plot is explained in further detail, there are still missing pieces; Buzz Lightyear's delusion, Woody's need for approval and affection, the various themes surrounding the passage of childhood and the fickle relationship between children and their possessions.

Anyway, it was all pretty clear with careful explanation even to thirteen and fourteen year olds what the differences were between a plot and a story, so I think a lot of it really comes down to understanding over what these words mean and that they are NOT synonymous. Plot is not the entirety of a story anymore than the stock market is the entirety of an economy.

(Tangentially, thank you for mentioning Jaws -- I am probably one of the few people who read the book before I saw the movie (I loved sharks as a kid but it was considered too adult so I satisfied myself with reading the book instead, which ironically is far more adult than the movie) and I remember being amazed when I saw the movie at how different they were, especially since one of the scenes that frightened me the most in the book was the part when Hooper died and Benchley describes his 'guts compacting' and the black eye of the shark in the cage)

Kyle R
March 30th, 2018, 04:41 AM
Thanks for clarifying, Terry.

And yes, I completely agree—story goes beyond plot (or even character). Though pegging it down feels a bit harder than identifying its individual components.

I'm currently reading Steamborn by Eric Asher, and it's a slow burn in the beginning. Not boring by any means, but slow in terms of "plot" development. A common expression comes to mind: "It's taking a while to find the plot", and yet, at the same time, the author is doing a lot of other things: introducing the characters, establishing the story world, showing the relationships between the characters.

There isn't any unified sort of direction to the conflict yet (indeed, the main conflicted hasn't even arisen yet), but it's still engaging and page-turning. Or, as this thread seems to contend: it's still story.

Some of my favorite moments in novels (or film) are the lulls in the plot, where the characters actually converse and open up to each other. It's the parts that I used to roll my eyes at or skip over when I was younger. ("Enough talk! Let's get back to the explosions and shark attacks!") But now I'm seeing the strength of those quieter scenes. They're more "story" oriented, even if they're not necessarily required for the plot—and they often linger in the reader's/viewer's minds due to the very fact that they seem to be "outside" the plot itself.

Or perhaps I'd say that story is what happens when a writer takes a plot and breathes life into it. Maybe.

It's a slippery topic to think about, but fun all the same. :encouragement:

Jay Greenstein
March 30th, 2018, 05:36 AM
I's say plot vs writing is a better way to say it. Story is the emotional whole, while plot is the road-map between "Once upon a time," and "The end."

Plots are easy. It's making the story seem so real that if someone swings at the protagonist the reader ducks that's hard. And plot is only meaningful in retrospect. Writing, though, is moment-by-moment, with the reader experiencing events in real-time. It's making sure the reader never feels lectured to. It's entertaining them on every page. It's making them care.

Jack of all trades
March 30th, 2018, 07:24 AM
Kyle R suggested I start a thread to discuss my #2 writing 'rule' posted in the 'My Writing Rules' thread. I don't know how much discussion it will generate, but here goes.

The 'rule' as i wrote it is this:

Focus on story above all else (not plot -- story -- there's a difference).

To me the difference is easy to see; plot is made up of the events which happen in your book. The story is how you weave those events into a fully functional rug using characters, setting, and your own voice.

The plot of Jaws is simple; A great white shark stakes out a feeding ground off the beaches of an island and starts eating people, threatening the summer tourist trade. Three men with wildly different backgrounds set out on a boat to kill the shark. Ta da.

The story of Jaws is far more complex and involves the relationships between the men (how many of you know that, in the book, the marine biologist Hooper has an affair with Sheriff Brody's wife, and is also eaten by the shark?), the island culture of Amity, the tension between Quint and the townsfolk, the dialogue, the setting, and so forth.

Plot is part of story, but just a part. Too many new writers think, just because they have a neat idea, they have a story. They don't. Plots without story are boring. Taking that plot and developing it into something bigger, something engaging, is the essence of storytelling.

I tend to use plot and story interchangeably, but I see your point.

When there's believability issues, would you say that's a plot problem or a story problem?

Terry D
March 30th, 2018, 08:24 PM
I tend to use plot and story interchangeably, but I see your point.

When there's believability issues, would you say that's a plot problem or a story problem?

Good question, Jack. IMO it would usually be a story problem. The writer didn't execute the story well enough to make the reader fully suspend their disbelief. Outlandish plots, say a zombie apocalypse, can be done well enough to seem believable. On the other hand, even completely plausible ideas can be made into woeful caricatures through poor execution. I'm thinking of just about any episode of the new S.W.A.T. TV series.

Jack of all trades
March 31st, 2018, 02:58 AM
Good question, Jack. IMO it would usually be a story problem. The writer didn't execute the story well enough to make the reader fully suspend their disbelief. Outlandish plots, say a zombie apocalypse, can be done well enough to seem believable. On the other hand, even completely plausible ideas can be made into woeful caricatures through poor execution. I'm thinking of just about any episode of the new S.W.A.T. TV series.

I'm thinking of things like breaking the laws of the universe or the nation. That sort of thing seems like a plot problem to me. Unless you're creating a new universe, friction slows things down, gravity pulls things down, and a US mail truck would have to be returned at the end of the day, and you're not likely to bump into the president during a tour of the White House. (Although I can think of a way to make the last one believable.)

Blackstone
March 31st, 2018, 05:12 AM
Good question, Jack. IMO it would usually be a story problem. The writer didn't execute the story well enough to make the reader fully suspend their disbelief. Outlandish plots, say a zombie apocalypse, can be done well enough to seem believable. On the other hand, even completely plausible ideas can be made into woeful caricatures through poor execution. I'm thinking of just about any episode of the new S.W.A.T. TV series.

I agree with this as being the most common problem, however would want to emphasize that errors in the plot are often just as severe a threat to credibility as poor characterization and execution.

I usually don't get too fastidious on this, though. Sometimes the nature of the text itself makes small plot drifts forgivable. I didn't mind, for instance, that the parents at the end of Back To The Future were somehow employing Biff Tanner, despite the fact in that same timeline he had attempted to rape Marty's mother and bullied George mercilessly, but that was only because the kind of movie it was (and to a degree the era in which it was made) seemed to allow this obvious problem. In something with more sober subject matter, though, that kind of headscratcher can really be a problem.

Also junk science, as Jack alluded to. I'm thinking like the movies Armageddon or Day After Tomorrow which (regardless of what fans claim) were marketed with some degree of scientific authority as part of the platform, yet have plots that make no sense to anybody with even rudimentary knowledge of their subject matter (nuking asteroids, etc). These are issues of fundamental credibility and are at the core concept of the plot. Even an excellent script and wonderful characters would not have avoided it. On the other hand, not always. Jurassic Park's bogus stuff about mosquito DNA did not cause me to not take the movie seriously. In that case it was because I found the overarching theory - that dinosaurs could be brought back to life through cloning - to be sound enough and Crichton did a good job of forming a plot that was sound but for the issue of how the dinosaur DNA was retrieved. Plus I didn't get the feeling he was asserting any kind of factual basis - was not saying 'this could happen' unlike the first two examples.

Add to the list of almost any Hollywood historical movie since 1990: minor oversights, anachronisms/errors in details and fictionalization/sensationalism of characters and events is all okay, especially in a movie that does not sell itself as being 'history' but when it's a book or movie that tries to advertise some degree of fact but contains a central plot that runs entirely against what is known to have actually happened that's a credibility problem in my opinion.

So basically, yeah, I agree with you, I just want to underscore that it sometimes is indeed the plot that hurts suspension of disbelief.

Terry D
March 31st, 2018, 08:36 PM
I'm thinking of things like breaking the laws of the universe or the nation. That sort of thing seems like a plot problem to me. Unless you're creating a new universe, friction slows things down, gravity pulls things down, and a US mail truck would have to be returned at the end of the day, and you're not likely to bump into the president during a tour of the White House. (Although I can think of a way to make the last one believable.)


I agree with this as being the most common problem, however would want to emphasize that errors in the plot are often just as severe a threat to credibility as poor characterization and execution.

I usually don't get too fastidious on this, though. Sometimes the nature of the text itself makes small plot drifts forgivable. I didn't mind, for instance, that the parents at the end of Back To The Future were somehow employing Biff Tanner, despite the fact in that same timeline he had attempted to rape Marty's mother and bullied George mercilessly, but that was only because the kind of movie it was (and to a degree the era in which it was made) seemed to allow this obvious problem. In something with more sober subject matter, though, that kind of headscratcher can really be a problem.

Also junk science, as Jack alluded to. I'm thinking like the movies Armageddon or Day After Tomorrow which (regardless of what fans claim) were marketed with some degree of scientific authority as part of the platform, yet have plots that make no sense to anybody with even rudimentary knowledge of their subject matter (nuking asteroids, etc). These are issues of fundamental credibility and are at the core concept of the plot. Even an excellent script and wonderful characters would not have avoided it. On the other hand, not always. Jurassic Park's bogus stuff about mosquito DNA did not cause me to not take the movie seriously. In that case it was because I found the overarching theory - that dinosaurs could be brought back to life through cloning - to be sound enough and Crichton did a good job of forming a plot that was sound but for the issue of how the dinosaur DNA was retrieved. Plus I didn't get the feeling he was asserting any kind of factual basis - was not saying 'this could happen' unlike the first two examples.

Add to the list of almost any Hollywood historical movie since 1990: minor oversights, anachronisms/errors in details and fictionalization/sensationalism of characters and events is all okay, especially in a movie that does not sell itself as being 'history' but when it's a book or movie that tries to advertise some degree of fact but contains a central plot that runs entirely against what is known to have actually happened that's a credibility problem in my opinion.

So basically, yeah, I agree with you, I just want to underscore that it sometimes is indeed the plot that hurts suspension of disbelief.

I'd still put plausibility in the 'story' box almost every time (except for those instances where the plot directly contradicts historical fact, unless there's a good reason for those 'facts' to be ignored -- as with alternative history novels). Without the breaking of 'universal' laws, most science fiction would not exist. For instance, there's no way to travel faster than light without violating the laws of physics. Even wormholes and Tacyon drives, though mathematically possible, still create problems that slam head-on into physics, but that hasn't stopped writers from using FTL drives for decades.

The plot of Armageddon is a comet on a collision course with Earth and what to do about it. That's a good plot -- it's actually going to happen someday. The story they told around that plot is what sucked. Since the plot of The Day After Tomorrow hinged on the rapidity of the climate change, I'd agree that one is a plot issue. Plot issues do happen. I'm not trying to say every plot can be saved by a good story, but I think it's far easier to save a questionable plot idea with some terrific story-telling than it is for a terrific plot to overcome a bad execution.

Jack of all trades
April 1st, 2018, 02:31 PM
I'd still put plausibility in the 'story' box almost every time (except for those instances where the plot directly contradicts historical fact, unless there's a good reason for those 'facts' to be ignored -- as with alternative history novels). Without the breaking of 'universal' laws, most science fiction would not exist. For instance, there's no way to travel faster than light without violating the laws of physics. Even wormholes and Tacyon drives, though mathematically possible, still create problems that slam head-on into physics, but that hasn't stopped writers from using FTL drives for decades.

The plot of Armageddon is a comet on a collision course with Earth and what to do about it. That's a good plot -- it's actually going to happen someday. The story they told around that plot is what sucked. Since the plot of The Day After Tomorrow hinged on the rapidity of the climate change, I'd agree that one is a plot issue. Plot issues do happen. I'm not trying to say every plot can be saved by a good story, but I think it's far easier to save a questionable plot idea with some terrific story-telling than it is for a terrific plot to overcome a bad execution.

Alright, but I'm not talking about science fiction. I agree, laws of the universe get bent, if not broken, in science fiction.

So if we limit it to mystery, romance or even the normal part of a fantasy (where one steps through a portal of some kind to enter the fantasy world), shouldn't friction still cause a car wheel to slow and stop? Or a frozen turkey outside in the snow and ice remains frozen? Aren't those kinds of deviations plot holes, and not story issues?

Sorry! Just read your second paragraph. I think we agree.

K.S. Crooks
April 2nd, 2018, 04:43 PM
Plot is like meat and potatoes, story is the spice and flavour. Spice on its own cannot sustain you, however no one enjoys food or a story without flavour.

Blackstone
April 3rd, 2018, 04:22 AM
Plot is like meat and potatoes, story is the spice and flavour. Spice on its own cannot sustain you, however no one enjoys food or a story without flavour.

Hello K.S,

I don't think anybody was denying the existence or importance of plot in a well-rounded story. The issue is whether one should be actively thinking about the plot while in the process of writing. I don't think your dinner analogy works for that, unless you were just making a general point.

Terry isn't the first to make this point, and it is true enough from a practical standpoint - though surprisingly few seem to take it on board. The plot is a natural byproduct of good characters + situation. It does not need focus.

Jack of all trades
April 3rd, 2018, 07:52 AM
Hello K.S,

I don't think anybody was denying the existence or importance of plot in a well-rounded story. The issue is whether one should be actively thinking about the plot while in the process of writing. I don't think your dinner analogy works for that, unless you were just making a general point.

Terry isn't the first to make this point, and it is true enough from a practical standpoint - though surprisingly few seem to take it on board. The plot is a natural byproduct of good characters + situation. It does not need focus.

I think K.S.Crooks was making a general point. As he generally only posts once a month, we may never know for sure.

I disagree that the plot is a natural byproduct of good characters + situation. Sometimes it flows well, but not always. And sometimes the author can have a goal in mind, making plotting more necessary. Still other times good characters + situation yields a rather anemic scene, that doesn't flow into a story.

Blackstone
April 3rd, 2018, 08:49 AM
I disagree that the plot is a natural byproduct of good characters + situation. Sometimes it flows well, but not always. And sometimes the author can have a goal in mind, making plotting more necessary. Still other times good characters + situation yields a rather anemic scene, that doesn't flow into a story.

No doubt there are plenty of writers around who plot. I do not doubt that, and people can work how they wish of course.

The question for me is more is it ever absolutely necessary or is it just that writers preferred method or the one they feel most comfortable with out of habit or training? I mean, are there any works one could not point to and say ďformulating these characters + this setting + this general problem/conflict/idea would have been sufficient to create this exact plotline simply by combining these pieces and seeing what happened? Is there any existing book whose plot could not have come about without plotting?

I am open minded on the question. I can only really speak for myself and I have never found if necessary to plot my work or to even think about it until the editing phase. Ironically some of my stories have received praise along the lines of ďclever plot twist that I didnít see comingĒ and it always makes me smile because usually I have put almost no thought into that stuff. On the other hand Iíll spend hours on carefully researching and describing a famous cathedral or the type of boots worn by 17th century cavaliers or on polishing some minor characters backstory and itís for nought. Such is life.

Of the novels I have written all of them started with pretty much a singular figment: A kind of picture in my head. Often it became a major character, sometimes an object, a couple times it was a place and once or twice a real life source of conflict/concern from a news article. I added what was needed piece by piece and tool great care, but the actual Plot came last always and was never really a conscious thing.

For the most part itís kind of a case of tangling my characters in a web of a sticky situation and then watching them try to fight free. Thereís often only one way I can conjure for that to happen - usually anyway - and that is what eventually becomes my ďplotĒ. If something clever happens I am as surprised as anybody. This is what I mean by plot as byproduct. Again, really interested to hear other methods especially if they come with examples.

Thank you sir.

bdcharles
April 3rd, 2018, 09:35 AM
Blimey. Is there a difference? Is it an important one? I figure that as long as I make my writing: a. as compelling as I can; and b. hold together narratively, then I try not to worry about the differences too much other than as talking points.

Kyle R
April 3rd, 2018, 01:57 PM
No doubt there are plenty of writers around who plot. I do not doubt that, and people can work how they wish of course.

The question for me is more is it ever absolutely necessary or is it just that writers preferred method or the one they feel most comfortable with out of habit or training?

Every writer works differently, to varying degrees. I'd say that if plotting is one writer's preferred method, then it's certainly necessary to them.

J.K. Rowling, for example, famously scrawled out all the plot points to her Harry Potter series in a messy outline that I, personally, can't make heads or tails from. But to her it was a much-needed roadmap, one that guided her to becoming the world's first billionaire author.

21286

Contrast her with Nora Roberts, who has said many times that she simply starts with interesting characters in mind (and a vague idea of how she wants things to end up). Then she just sits down and lets her fingers fly over the keys. For her, that's the only pre-thought she's needed to churn out all her books. (I believe she's approaching 300 novels at this point, including the 40+ novels she's written under her alias, J.D. Robb.)

But what works for Rowling certainly wouldn't work for Roberts (and vice versa)—which I believe is the main takeaway to focus on: what works for one writer probably won't work for another. We all have to find our own unique approach.

(My approach, lately, has been to grip my hair and groan, and mash the keyboard in frustration until something makes me tilt my head and say, "Huh! Well, that's actually not half bad ..." Then rinse and repeat. :P)

Bayview
April 3rd, 2018, 03:28 PM
I think the need to pre-plan the plot is probably at least somewhat genre-based. I'm fine winging it with a romance, but if I were writing a murder mystery I'd want a tighter structure from the start.

Jack of all trades
April 3rd, 2018, 04:09 PM
I think the need to pre-plan the plot is probably at least somewhat genre-based. I'm fine winging it with a romance, but if I were writing a murder mystery I'd want a tighter structure from the start.

That's interesting, because I write mysteries and typically wing it. I usually know the crime and have a vague idea of who I think did it, but sometimes change my mind somewhere in the middle.

But I have written some crap that went nowhere, too. So it doesn't always flow naturally.

Bayview
April 3rd, 2018, 05:43 PM
That's interesting, because I write mysteries and typically wing it. I usually know the crime and have a vague idea of who I think did it, but sometimes change my mind somewhere in the middle.

But I have written some crap that went nowhere, too. So it doesn't always flow naturally.


Do you have to go back and do a lot of rewrites in order to fit in clues for your readers to pick up on?

Terry D
April 3rd, 2018, 08:21 PM
Blimey. Is there a difference? Is it an important one? I figure that as long as I make my writing: a. as compelling as I can; and b. hold together narratively, then I try not to worry about the differences too much other than as talking points.

Sure there's a difference. A big one, and it's the difference between giving your readers a product they will enjoy reading and one which they will need to slog through (if they are strong enough to make to the end. You can see the difference right here on WF. There are a number of long term members who keep coming back to Writing Discussion, or Research with questions about, "how do I make thus-and-such believable?", or "how do I create a generational starship that can support ten million people?" Yet we never see a lick of work from them and they keep posting the same questions, or slight variations, for years. Those people have plots but no idea how to turn them into stories. I had the same problem when I first started writing. I had what I thought were greats ideas, but the execution of that idea would always turn out rushed feeling, or flat. It took a long time for me to learn that the idea (plot) won't carry the day. It needs to be wrapped up with strong characters, a 3 dimensional setting, and delivered with a compelling voice. I thought, as many new writers seem to, that the plot was the 'fun stuff' about writing and I wanted to get from one plot point to the next as quickly as I could. Heck, that's why I was writing, to get these great ideas out of my head and onto paper. It was only later that I realized reader's weren't reading to understand my terrific ideas. They read to be told a story, and the story is much larger than the idea it is built around.

Somewhere here at WF there's a thread entitled, 'Your story in one sentence'. Those are all plot summaries.

Bayview
April 3rd, 2018, 09:25 PM
I could just be quibbling about semantics, but I tend to think of plot as something further along the line from what many aspiring writers have. I feel like a plot is the skeleton of a story, and a lot of beginners can't manage to actually put that together. Sometimes they have a different element of the story beautifully detailed (setting, characters, whatever) but just don't know what to do with that single element. I think the doing something is where the plot comes in.

I'm not saying there are never any new writers who have the plot figured out without having the rest, but I think often the plot is what's missing.

Blackstone
April 4th, 2018, 02:47 AM
I could just be quibbling about semantics, but I tend to think of plot as something further along the line from what many aspiring writers have. I feel like a plot is the skeleton of a story, and a lot of beginners can't manage to actually put that together. Sometimes they have a different element of the story beautifully detailed (setting, characters, whatever) but just don't know what to do with that single element. I think the doing something is where the plot comes in.

I'm not saying there are never any new writers who have the plot figured out without having the rest, but I think often the plot is what's missing.


The plot is the major events of the story, right? Nothing more, nothing less. A plot could be one sentence of several pages, it makes no matter, so long as it sticks only to the major events that physically happen. No words said, no things thought, no symbolism, no spoken words.

With that in mind, what I am saying - and what my interpretation of Terry's rule was - is that while this concept of plot unquestionably exists and cannot be avoided (unless your story is just one entity sitting in a box and doing nothing - but even then, that's a plot) it does not need to be focused on because it will exist regardless. You cannot have a plotless story anymore than you can have a wordless one.

The writing habits of Joe Rowling are obviously beyond reproach in this regard. But, when we are speaking of rules, we are speaking, I think, of what is a best practice for the majority of writers. There are no rules that apply to everyone. Not even grammar manages that.

But there are generalizations.

I maintain that in general focusing on plot is not necessary because there is only really one decent plotline for most stories anyway. Once you have your characters and conundrum, provided you are writing them in a way that is true, the plot will write itself based on the decisions of the characters and their various interactions. Assuming your characters are not schizophrenic or anything, they will usually only be capable of making one decision freely. If Leanna is unhappy in her marriage with Harry, she will allow herself to be seduced by Johnny. Whether it happens in a cave on a hike or in the back of a Camaro is irrelevant, the mechanics are the same; it was going to happen the moment I came up with Leanna, Harry and Johnny as characters and decided my story would be about them going on vacation to the Finger Lakes.

I think this kind of gets into the realm of fate and destiny and becomes a philosophical topic. You know how when people talk about how if they would only have done X how Y would have been different? How if ONLY they had not eaten all the cupcakes they wouldn't have got the poops? My feelings on that are that it's not as simple as rolling a dice; there are very few things that come down to an even decision. "Yeah, but Bill, you didn't do it differently. Because you're a greedy bastard and the moment you saw those cupcakes you were going to eat them all. It would be out of character if you didn't."

Most of our lives (our plots, in other words) are dictated to us by our own innermost motivations and manipulations and there isn't a whole lot of capacity with which to change things. At least not beyond very superficial levels - what kind of sandwich we will eat, what kind of car we will buy, etc. With that in mind, worrying about the plot seems superfluous to me. And I struggle to completely understand those who would promote it as necessary, Rowling or not, as much as I would love to.

All I know is over a dozen completed novels in and I have yet to find my lack of attention to it has affected its existence one way or another - and I tend to write fairly plot heavy books.

RhythmOvPain
April 4th, 2018, 04:15 AM
The plot propells the story; the story becomes such behind the (inter)actions of the characters following it.

Blackstone
April 4th, 2018, 04:22 AM
The plot propells the story

What does this mean, though?

RhythmOvPain
April 4th, 2018, 04:41 AM
What does this mean, though?

It means exactly what it says.

Picture a bullet train, kay?

The terminal is your mind; the characters are the train; the rail is the plot; the destination is the story.

As an author, you do three things (imo): create a universe, create characters, and create a series of circumstances leading to a cohesive and decisive conclusion.

A plot is why we have sequels.

Blackstone
April 4th, 2018, 05:32 AM
It means exactly what it says.

Picture a bullet train, kay?

The terminal is your mind; the characters are the train; the rail is the plot; the destination is the story.

As an author, you do three things (imo): create a universe, create characters, and create a series of circumstances leading to a cohesive and decisive conclusion.

A plot is why we have sequels.

I appreciate the analogy but it doesn't work for me, for the reasons I stated in my previous (longer) post.

Nobody is questioning the existence of a plot, or even its importance as a retrospective summary.

I am, however, questioning the need for plotting.

Your railroad analogy suggests that (1) the rails need to be intentionally built ahead of the train's movement and (2) that the train is a product of the power of its rails. I reject both of those. I know from personal experience that is not true.

I know from personal experience that my stories have plotlines that are not like rails but like the jet streams off the back of planes. In other words, they are unplanned, unintended byproducts of a particular vessel (story) powered by the sum of its own parts (the characters) who were set on a certain heading (idea, goal, quest, conflict) and subsequently that course was altered by choices made in line with the aerodynamics and turbulence (problems, mistakes, etc). Once the pieces are made, the story is locked into autopilot from there on out and as interesting as the jet stream may be, as pretty it might look pattern-wise or as many crazy conspiracies it might spawn (hey Alex!) its all gas for which I as pilot has no special use because, well, I wrote the damn thing without paying attention to what was spewing out the back.

I am interested in hearing about the distinct and specific advantages of not thinking this way, just for curiosity's sakes because I pretty much always have. Reasons for working out part of all of the plot in advance and any reasons those who do it think it helps create a better product. I will have to look into Rowling's process. Would definitely be interested to know if that was a way for her simply to keep track of where she was at (I do take notes myself on occasion, especially if its a complicated narrative, just because it's easier than reading back to remember all that happened) or if she wrote the entire plot that way in antecessum.

RhythmOvPain
April 4th, 2018, 05:47 AM
How the plot is formed does not dictate the validity of the concept; a plot that develops itself into a story is just a good plot.

Keep in mind, a plot can have a (back)story all its own, but that story has to have a plot laid out by the actions of the characters which premeditates its very existence.

If you STILL don't get it, I have one last example to offer: the PLOT to kill Franz Ferdinand propelled the STORY of WWI.

Good enough?

senecaone
April 4th, 2018, 05:48 AM
I'm lost in the weeds here.
To my mind, the story line is first. That's the core idea.
Plots are devices that help carry the story from beginning to end. Bad devices kill the story. Good ones add value. Great and unique ones are true gems
Characters add flavor. If they're all flat and in the same voice, so is the story. If they're too extreme, they can also kill the story.

Story, Plot, Character. All in balance.

Story first, the rest are in support. Too simplistic? Maybe. But not a bad place to start, I think.

RhythmOvPain
April 4th, 2018, 06:03 AM
I'm lost in the weeds here.
To my mind, the story line is first. That's the core idea.
Plots are devices that help carry the story from beginning to end. Bad devices kill the story. Good ones add value. Great and unique ones are true gems
Characters add flavor. If they're all flat and in the same voice, so is the story. If they're too extreme, they can also kill the story.

Story, Plot, Character. All in balance.

Story first, the rest are in support. Too simplistic? Maybe. But not a bad place to start, I think.

Except for the fact that a story has to have a beginning, middle, and end, in order to be classified as anything outside of hyperbole.

Blackstone
April 4th, 2018, 06:20 AM
How the plot is formed does not dictate the validity of the concept; a plot that develops itself into a story is just a good plot.

Keep in mind, a plot can have a (back)story all its own, but that story has to have a plot laid out by the actions of the characters which premeditates its very existence.

If you STILL don't get it, I have one last example to offer: the PLOT to kill Franz Ferdinand propelled the STORY of WWI.

Good enough?

I think you're mixing plot with concept. They aren't quite the same thing, in my view.

A plot is the sequence of events across the entire story. The blow-by-blow of what occurs. Like the commentary on a sportscast. A concept is the 'what if', the presented challenge. I am all about those!

It is possible, I suppose, for a plot point to form the basis for a concept, especially - as I think you mentioned - in a sequel scenario. Like if one wrote a book about an alien invasion that was repelled by a nuclear weapon it would be possible to then write a sequel about living in the carnage that followed and that is a plot-driven idea for sure - even if the plot in question came from another book. I think that would be a relatively small proportion of stories that come about that way.

But I am here to be illuminated on the matter.

Blackstone
April 4th, 2018, 06:23 AM
I'm lost in the weeds here.
To my mind, the story line is first. That's the core idea.
Plots are devices that help carry the story from beginning to end. Bad devices kill the story. Good ones add value. Great and unique ones are true gems
Characters add flavor. If they're all flat and in the same voice, so is the story. If they're too extreme, they can also kill the story.

Story, Plot, Character. All in balance.

Story first, the rest are in support. Too simplistic? Maybe. But not a bad place to start, I think.
It's not that it's simplistic, senecaone, it's just that it's kind of semantic muddling.

You seem to think story is something separate to plot and characters. Story is a catch all for plot plus characters plus situation (a fire, a war, an affair) and that's basically all it is, no?

If you disagree, please elaborate on what you think story is. Otherwise there's not much point in adding in a new unicorn named ​Story.

Bayview
April 4th, 2018, 11:57 AM
I agree that "story" is what we get when we combine plot, characters, setting, and writing style. Story is the whole, the others are just parts of it.

I feel like the "do we need to figure out our plot ahead of time" question is a bit of an offshoot from the thread... it's essentially the plotters/pantsers, architects/gardeners debate again, right? And I think it's probably going to be one more writing question for which there's no overarching answer. Some people's work comes better if they plan ahead, some people's work comes better if they don't. Fair enough.

But hopefully whatever approach they take, the final version will be a complete, well-balanced story, with all elements rich and interesting!

Pete_C
April 5th, 2018, 12:03 PM
Plot, story, concept, characterisation, scenes, sequences, segways, seagulls; whatever happened to just telling a good story that appeals to some readers? Is it that hard? I've written all my life across many genres: journalism, technical non-fiction, fiction, poetry, scripts, etc., and seemingly I've done it without getting bogged down in the on-going debates; debates that seem to obscure the reason for writing more than offering a revelation. It's only in recent years I've become aware that people spend way too much time debating how to write.

There is no special skill, no secret code, no defining rules or structures. Rather than debate the living shit out of it, spend the time developing an inner ear, one that hears what people want to read. Then apply it to your work. If you get your writing wrong, you will know because your inner ear will tell you so. I sometimes write things that I am unhappy with and usually I know that much as I write it. I don't apply a bunch of other peoples' rules and theories. I go back and work it out because I have learned to read my work as a detached person and can therefore see where it's weak and where it's strong.

All this debate sometimes makes me want to weep (metaphorically, of course; I'm too busy to actually spend time weeping). When I first started writing I played around, broke the rules, tried things no one else had tried (and often found out why no one else had tried them). I invented structures and constructions and even words and then discovered why no one else used them. I didn't want to write a novel or win a Pulitzer prize of create a series that became a film franchise or be on an Amazon list (because Amazon was some future that we had idea about); I wanted to play with language and stories and create something that fitted my mood.

That care-free abandonment taught me more about writing than anything else ever did. Reading a lot of varied things helped, as did immersing myself in communications of all types and observing how other people reacted to them. I only found out about most of the 'rules' after I'd been doing it for 40-odd years.

When a piece of writing really drags me in it's usually different and does not follow the normal path. It has an original voice, and different structure, something that appeals because it 'speaks' to me in some way or another. I don't tend to analyse its construction (and nor do most readers). I know if it works for me. The emphasis is on 'for me'. I don't care if anyone else likes it or not. I also write what works for me. Same emphasis.

The truth is that these debates often achieve little because writing, like any sort of creativity, isn't the same for anyone. It's as futile as debating what the best food to have with beer is. Today that seems to be a 'thing'; pairing beer with food. Ironically, I've never needed 'expert' advice as to what drink to have with a meal. I think I can work that out myself. This is despite several websites and blogs and self-proclaimed experts offering 'pairing' advice. I trust myself.

That's the thing more writers should do: trust themselves. Yes, you will get it wrong. Yes, you will either delete or heavily revise work. Yes, you will weep. But you will learn. Forget rules and theories and 'well established facts' from unestablished people. Play with language and structure and tone and voice and see what works and what doesn't. Don't expect to be great at first. Develop an inner ear that is both critical and complimentary and then trust it. Plot and story and a host of other definitions will then be irrelevant because the writing will stand by itself.

Blackstone
April 5th, 2018, 01:00 PM
Plot, story, concept, characterisation, scenes, sequences, segways, seagulls; whatever happened to just telling a good story that appeals to some readers? Is it that hard? I've written all my life across many genres: journalism, technical non-fiction, fiction, poetry, scripts, etc., and seemingly I've done it without getting bogged down in the on-going debates; debates that seem to obscure the reason for writing more than offering a revelation. It's only in recent years I've become aware that people spend way too much time debating how to write.

There is no special skill, no secret code, no defining rules or structures. Rather than debate the living shit out of it, spend the time developing an inner ear, one that hears what people want to read. Then apply it to your work. If you get your writing wrong, you will know because your inner ear will tell you so. I sometimes write things that I am unhappy with and usually I know that much as I write it. I don't apply a bunch of other peoples' rules and theories. I go back and work it out because I have learned to read my work as a detached person and can therefore see where it's weak and where it's strong.

All this debate sometimes makes me want to weep (metaphorically, of course; I'm too busy to actually spend time weeping). When I first started writing I played around, broke the rules, tried things no one else had tried (and often found out why no one else had tried them). I invented structures and constructions and even words and then discovered why no one else used them. I didn't want to write a novel or win a Pulitzer prize of create a series that became a film franchise or be on an Amazon list (because Amazon was some future that we had idea about); I wanted to play with language and stories and create something that fitted my mood.

That care-free abandonment taught me more about writing than anything else ever did. Reading a lot of varied things helped, as did immersing myself in communications of all types and observing how other people reacted to them. I only found out about most of the 'rules' after I'd been doing it for 40-odd years.

When a piece of writing really drags me in it's usually different and does not follow the normal path. It has an original voice, and different structure, something that appeals because it 'speaks' to me in some way or another. I don't tend to analyse its construction (and nor do most readers). I know if it works for me. The emphasis is on 'for me'. I don't care if anyone else likes it or not. I also write what works for me. Same emphasis.

The truth is that these debates often achieve little because writing, like any sort of creativity, isn't the same for anyone. It's as futile as debating what the best food to have with beer is. Today that seems to be a 'thing'; pairing beer with food. Ironically, I've never needed 'expert' advice as to what drink to have with a meal. I think I can work that out myself. This is despite several websites and blogs and self-proclaimed experts offering 'pairing' advice. I trust myself.

That's the thing more writers should do: trust themselves. Yes, you will get it wrong. Yes, you will either delete or heavily revise work. Yes, you will weep. But you will learn. Forget rules and theories and 'well established facts' from unestablished people. Play with language and structure and tone and voice and see what works and what doesn't. Don't expect to be great at first. Develop an inner ear that is both critical and complimentary and then trust it. Plot and story and a host of other definitions will then be irrelevant because the writing will stand by itself.

Hello Pete,

I donít totally disagree. Writing is ultimately driven by instinct. I usually donít care to over-intellectualize and once a topic has been exhausted (scene clock anyone?) I agree, to quote Elvis, that a little less conversation and a little more action is the way to go.

Probably about at that point on this one I reckon.

That said, thereís nothing wrong with debate. Debate is not always a means to an end, itís sometimes an end to itself. So long as a conversation is generating new input and not quibbling over inanities or treading water thatís already been farted in by countless others, I respectfully disagree that expert advice (or even non expert advice) is not useful even if one may not agree with the entirety of its point.

Actually I thought that was basically the point of this forum? Am I missing something? Why are you here, may I ask?

Thanks Pete.

Terry D
April 5th, 2018, 02:14 PM
I want to thank everyone for a great discussion here. It is very interesting to see the spin other writers put on this wildly subjective 'rule' of mine. The reason it works for me -- or maybe it doesn't work, depending on how you view my resulting stories -- is because it helps me focus on creating an enjoyable read, not just interesting events. As I mentioned somewhere above, early on I was more interested in creating a unique string of events than in sharpening my storytelling skills. What I ended up with were stories that felt rushed and lumpy, like Cream-of-Wheat cooked too quickly. It was only when I slowed down and started enjoying the creative process itself, enjoying the language and enjoying playing with the pace and flow of the narrative that my writing started to sound right to me.

While reading through this thread, another definition of plot vs story came to me, one I think sums up my opinion best; a book's plot can be found on the back-cover blurb, but its story can only be found by reading everything between the covers.

haribol
April 5th, 2018, 02:44 PM
In my opinion plot is a somewhat technical term and it is a part or component of the story, and the story is on the other hand the whole thing and all beautifully integrated into a beautiful whole. Plot is a story, and yet not a complete story, and it is a rivulet that flows to a river and becomes submerged in that bigness of the flow. Plot is the body and story is the soul and yet soul needs a body for existence or manifestation or else the story becomes concreted in a plot and story breathes a life into plot. And that is why they are integral

EmmaSohan
April 14th, 2018, 03:23 PM
He runs his hands up her smooth sides and beneath the inside-out shirt. She gives a tiny jump at his initial touch --
He runs his hands up her smooth sides -- she gives a tiny jump at his initial touch -- and beneath the inside-out shirt. (King, Mr. Mercedes)

Perhaps, it seems to me, a recurring conflict at WF is between the events of a story (including setting) and the reader's experience. The two short passages above are intended to describe the same action. The second one, IMO, uses grammar to interrupt the action, in a way creating the same experience for the reader as the character is experiencing. (The story is told from his perspective.)

It seems useful to distinguish "the story" from "how the story is told". That would equate "story" with the information in a book, not with the reader's experience? True?

Bayview, perhaps seeing the problems lying ahead, was the only person I noticed trying to include the words used in the definition of story. Jay wanted story to include the emotional whole. The usual view seemed to equate story with the information.

I think it's more natural to differentiate 'the story' from 'how the story is told', so defining story as events and characters and setting seems more natural. Or maybe it's better to leave "story" ambiguous, that's fine with me.

Alicia32
May 15th, 2018, 03:23 PM
Everything works together for me--research on the place, the science, the history suggests perhaps occupations which suggests the sort of people who'd choose them or be thrust into them and hate them. I sometimes use the question "what's the worst thing that could happen to this particular person?" to create incidents. I always know the genre I'm writing in to begin, which dictates certain matters about character (in romance, you need two people who will love each other--police procedural, you need at least one cop and one criminal--quests, you need a hero, an older ally, a buddy or two, and enemies...and so on).

That said, how I develop a character is largely intuitive...but I'm thoughtful, logical and analytic about plot design. For character, as I jot notes, it's like I'm taking dictation. With plot, it's more like designing a bridge that functions well. YMMV

Yay, for you knowing the term "inciting incident." :-)

Malachi
August 3rd, 2018, 04:46 AM
Not sure if this has been said, but to me: Plot is the events that take place- Story is how the characters react and relate to the plot.

Guard Dog
November 13th, 2018, 01:44 PM
Might as well give my opinion on this one too...

One, a story is just the relating of events that occur to one or more characters over a period of time.

Those characters can be anything... A person, animal, object, or even a place.

Two, the plot is what happens to those characters, with the plot points being sub-events that occur along the way to the end of the story.


Here's a rather short and silly example; the old nursery rhyme, Little Miss Muffet.

The story is about a girl and a spider, and what happens when they meet.

The first plot point is Miss Muffet sitting there eating. The next is a spider showing up. There's a conflict brought on by the fact that Muffet is apparently arachnophobic. The resolution is her deciding to leave and go eat somewhere else. The end.

Now, what plot points can be changed and keep the story the same?

Let's see, let's try this... Muffet is sitting there eating, and here comes the spider. But this time, she isn't afraid of it, just doesn't like it. So she reaches down, takes off her shoe, and hammers the spider flat with it, and finishes eating. The End.

What have we got now? A girl eating? Check. A spider coming along and causing a conflict? Check. Conflict being resolved? Check.

So... Same story, technically, with a plot consisting of two subjects, one conflict, one resolution. But a slightly different outcome due to changing a couple of plot points. The path through the story not really being changed that much over all though.

Anyway, that's my thoughts on story and plot. Hope it made sense.



G.D.

Jack of all trades
November 17th, 2018, 06:11 AM
Let's look at the definitions.



plot /plšt/

noun
1. a plan made in secret by a group of people to do something illegal or harmful.
2. the main events of a play, novel, movie, or similar work, devised and presented by the writer as an interrelated sequence.
3. a small piece of ground marked out for a purpose such as building or gardening.
4. a graph showing the relation between two variables.

verb
1. secretly make plans to carry out (an illegal or harmful action).
2. devise the sequence of events in (a play, novel, movie, or similar work).
3. mark (a route or position) on a chart.


For this discussion, number 2 of the noun is what we're talking about, so the main events.



sto∑ry 1 /stŰrē/

noun
1. an account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment.
2. an account of past events in someone's life or in the evolution of something.

sto∑ry 2 /stŰrē/

noun
a part of a building comprising all the rooms that are on the same level.


For this discussion, story 1 is what's relevant, so an account of events that happens to either real or imaginary people or characters.

Plot : the main events.
Story : an account of events.

What it seems to me is, the plot is what is told, while the story is how it is told.

Bloggsworth
November 17th, 2018, 07:53 PM
Plot is the overarching construction of the book, the story is how it is carried out...

Leke A
November 30th, 2018, 02:31 AM
For me personally, I think the plot is just a series of events for example: Jack wants to get a magical stone and we read the events of him trying to obtain said stone.
The story is everything around the events of Jack obtaining the stone. His struggle, his relationship with the stone, those who help him, the conflict with his enemies and the overall themes. Plot is the bones an and your story is the body and the soul.