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Author: Sydney Bauer

This lesson introduces the concept of plots in fiction.

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What it is (and what it isn’t)

One of the most classic examples of what is and is not considered “plot” in a work of fiction is the following excerpt (paraphrased) from E.M. Forester’s Aspects of the Novel (1927):

To say that the King died and then Queen died is to tell a story (a simple synopsis of events, presented chronologically).

To say that the King died and then the Queen died of grief is to build a plot (a link is formed between the two events, making connections, developing a pattern).


Think of story and narrative as the raw material that plot is made out of: a simple chronological telling of events. Plot is the selective arrangement of narrative events to create cause and effect relationships between each event, which is again the difference between the two sentences in the above example. Narrative is considered to be what is told, whereas plot is considered to be how the material is organized and presented to the reader so that the text will have a specific effect on him or her.


Plot forms a chain of interrelated events. It determines which elements and events of the story are presented to the reader, as well as the order in which they appear. Plot focuses the reader’s attention and depends on him or her to draw inferences between actions and events. It is the structure or pattern that controls the other elements of the narrative.


Plot includes the initial moment of calm and balance (equilibrium), the rising action, complications, the climax, the falling action, the denouement, and the end. This general pattern creates the arch of the storyline.


Plots can be

  • linear (does not reorder events, presents them chronologically)
  • nonlinear (drastically reorders events)
  • episodic (is a chain of individual events, rather than events that are a part of a whole).




Franz Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”

Plot: Rather than tell the entire life story of Gregor Samsa, Kafka selects to tell the events that take place after Gregor mysteriously transforms into a large beetle. Even within that small window of time, Kafka is very selective as to which scenes are described. Again, he does not tell the reader everything that happened to Gregor while he was a beetle, only what he believes will create interest and tension.




Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird

Plot: The coming-of-age story of Scout and Jem Finch. The story, told from Scout’s perspective decades later, follows the two Finch children as they spy on their spooky neighbor, get into scuffles with other kids in town, and eavesdrop at the court house during a rape trial. The text spans several years, focusing mainly on a few summers, which is when most of the events take place. Again, the narrator and the author select which details to tell the reader.