As the saying goes, “If you wish to influence an individual or a group to embrace a particular value in their daily lives, tell them a compelling story.” Right from the beginning of civilization, storytelling has profoundly impacted people, influencing their thought processes and daily life. Consequently, today’s highly competitive business world is crazy about acquiring the art of storytelling. A story is a collection of narratives told in sequential order of time. However, a story combined with a good plot and a quality narration compels the reader to invest his time until the end. Here in this article, let us understand what a plot is and unravel its significance to the art of storytelling.
What is a Plot?
A narrative with a sequential arrangement of events connected through a cause and effect relationship is called a plot. For example, in Hansel and Gretel, their stepmother plans to abandon the children amidst the forest to overcome their starvation. Here, the reason for leaving their children back in the woods is apparent. Hence, this scene can be called a plot. On the other hand, there is no plot when the cause is unclear.
What is the Plot of a Story?
A plot of a story is a technique of arranging events, with greater emphasis on causality rather than the time sequence. For example, as E.M. Forster notes, “the king died, and the queen died” is a story without a plot, as it does not reveal the causality in the sequence of scenes. However, when the same is reconstructed as “the king died, and the queen died, out of grief,” it reveals the reason for the queen’s death. Therefore, it is termed a plot of a story. Hence, in the plot of a story, an author consciously arranges each event to entice the reader into a captivating cycle of events, which arrests the reader’s interest. So, the primary aim of the plot of a story is to capture the reader’s interest.
Like books, movies too have plots where the events are narrated in a sequence. The plot exhibits the characters’ behavior explaining the cause and effect of their actions.In addition, it enables the audience to grasp the film’s theme and become one with the story with its twists and turns. Audiences fix the pieces of the film together, watching the rise and fall of the movie. The causes and effects of the characters’ actions keep the plot alive.
There are numerous ways to design a plot depending on the course of the story, let us uncover its different types.
Types of Plot
Here are different types of plot to choose from for specific story types:
- Tragedy: Tragic plots have their central character suffering from loss of fortune or happiness. Hence, the events transition from a happy and wonderful life to a tragic end. E.g, King Lear, Requiem for a Dream.
- Comedy: Despite the defects in the character, plots of comedy never have a painful or destructive ending. E.g., The Twelfth Night, Hubie Halloween
- Hero’s Journey: The plot of the hero’s journey constitutes two critical situations featuring the hero’s realization and his quest to resolve a specific situation.
- Rags to Riches: This classic plot showcases characters who are poor or suffer from some issues, and a series of magical events transform their lives. These plots often have a happy ending. E.g., Cinderella, Slumdog Millionaire, The Wolf of the Wall Street
- Rebirth: This type of plot features a tragic character whose past has compelled them to take on a negative view of life. Following this, another set of events leads them to see the light. E.g., Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, The Truman Show.
- Overcoming the monster: These stories feature a singular or a group of protagonists fighting against the challenging antagonist. Alternatively, they are known as the good versus evil plot in which the antagonists usually create obstacles for the protagonists until the final battle. E.g., Star Wars, James Bond Movies
- Voyage and Return: A straightforward plot following a character’s journey from point A to B. E.g., Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist
- Quest: This plot suits the adventurous protagonist who embarks on a journey to find something. E.g., The Lord of Rings.
When you start building a plot, you begin with an event, or a scene called a plot point. Unconsciously, when you reach five plot points, you start building a plot. However, including the five elements is a good starting point for you to organize your story and here we are to uncover its aspects.
Structuring the Story with the Elements of a Plot
A great story has a beautiful structure apart from an excellent plot. It deals with how you unravel the story for your readers. Although essentially a story contains a beginning, middle, and end, it must also include plot events or elements as enlisted in the Freytag’s Pyramid. These plot events give a framework to the story, thereby helping you achieve a perfect structure. Some of these plot events are as shown below:
This stage is the introductory phase of your story, wherein you can introduce the cast, describe the setting, and give a glimpse into the arising conflict in your story. Hence, this phase consumes only a few chapters and scenes to retain the readers’ and audiences’ interest.
- Rising Action
This phase commences with the inciting incidents and sets your story in motion as it describes the action taking place. In addition, it constitutes multiple conflicting matters that exemplify the tension in the scene and gears the story toward the climax. Therefore, this part of your story consumes most of your text and film.
The climax is a peaking point where tension mounts to your characters in the story. This story should become unpredictable for your reader/an audience beyond this point to keep him engaged. In addition, during this point, your character may make a life-altering decision or embark on a complete change.
- Falling Action
This stage is known for conflict resolution indicating the approaching end.
The resolution and some events of tragedy or happiness conclude the story. Although plot events help you structure a story, the latter can still have flaws, such as a plot hole.
What is a Plot Hole?
A plot hole makes a story incomplete, leaving the viewer or reader with many unanswered questions. It occurs when an event is presented without enough information. There are two types of plot holes, they include:
Plot Inconsistency: When the plot’s characters don’t abide by their established characteristics, plot inconsistency occurs.
Plot Logic Hole: When a story neglects a significant detail of the practical world.
However, an excellent way to overcome flaws in your story is to visualize it with the help of a plot diagram.
What is a Plot Diagram?
A plot diagram is a story map representing the sequence of events in a story. It helps you to:
- Locate your story’s climax
- Locate unclear areas with less information
- Maximize tensions in the story to lead to the turning point.
- Visualize out of chronological order happenings like flashbacks or flash-forwards.
- Visualize the changes to your main character.
Here is an example of a plot diagram for the movie Charlotte’s Web
Once you have removed your story’s flaws, you must focus on pumping up the tensions to lead to the climax. For this purpose, you can employ a plot device.
What is a Plot Device?
A plot device is a literary tool used to transition the story from rising action to climax. Hence, it helps capture the reader’s and audience’s interest, deepens the story, complicates its themes, and maintains its pace.
Here is a list of plot devices to use:
1. Essential Plot Devices
- Anagnorisis (Recognition)
The moment at which a protagonist perceives his irreversible flaw is called anagnorisis. It often precedes the story’s climax and convinces the protagonist to resolve the conflict in the story. For example, in Shakespeare’s play Othello, he discovers his wife’s loyalty after killing her based on Iago’s manipulation.
- Pathos (Suffering)
The inclusion of a painful moment is crucial to any story. It helps propel the story and can feature a physical, emotional, or existential pain.
- Peripeteia (Reversal)
Peripeteia is when a specific moment marks the reversal of a situation from good to bad or bad fortune to good. It often accompanies anagnorisis and occurs after a climax.
2. Plot devices to Enhance a Story’s Structure
Backstory refers to the sequence of events that precede the story’s exposition. These devices feature as historical parallel or as bits of characterization. However, sometimes a flashback may connect it with the story.
- Deus Ex Machina
When a protagonist finds an unexpected relief from an entanglement due to a change beyond his control, it is called deus ex machina.
- In Media Res
When the story begins amid the rising action, it hooks the reader and takes him to the beginning and is called in media res.
- Plot voucher
When a protagonist receives something and reserves it for later use without the hope of using it, it is called a plot voucher.
3. Plot devices to transition the story from rising action to climax
A cliffhanger is said to be used when a story ends before actually revealing the climax. As a result, the reader/audience is left expecting the conclusion and fate of the protagonist. Although a cliffhanger is literary merit, it is frequently used in series. For example, some plot points are left unresolved between seasons in the series Game of Thrones.
When a protagonist’s desire for something leads to a conflict, it provokes him to chase the same. However, he later finds out that there is no value attached to what he desired, called a Macguffin. However, this chase teaches the protagonist a lesson to cherish for his life. For example, the Maltese falcon, where the falcon statuette is pursued by many but never obtained.
- Red Herring
When a plot turns out to be predictable, people get bored. Hence, writers can use plot twists to incite interest in the viewers. One way to introduce plot twists is through the use of red herring. Red herring is a tool that distracts the readers and makes it unpredictable. It can also become a unique style of the writer. Hence, this tool is mainly used while constructing mysterious and suspenseful stories. However, it has to be used with caution as it can break a reader’s trust.
Here is an example of the plot of the movie Encanto
Pedro and Alma Madrigal are young couples blessed with the infant triplets Julieta, Pepa, and Bruno. They flee from their home village in Colombia in fear of an armed conflict. While the attackers kill Pedro, Alma’s magical candle secures them in a magical sentient house, “Casita.” Hence, the Madrigal family and the other refugees build a magical town named Encanto under Casita’s protection.
The movie flash forwards to 50 years. Casita gifts the descendants of the Madrigal family with superhuman abilities once they reach the age of five. However, Bruno and Julieta;s youngest daughter Mirabel remain exceptions. Bruno’s gift of precognition is belittled, which leads to his disappearance ten years ago. However, now Mirabel, who has been denied any gift, suddenly finds Casita cracking when Pepa’s youngest son gains the ability to converse with animals.
2. Rising Action
Although the rest of the family members don’t believe in Mirabel’s vision, Alma believes her. Hence, Mirabel attempts to save the magic from extinction, asking her cousin Dolores and Luisa if they feel their powers are fading. Soon, Luisa confesses and suggests she visit Bruno’s room, recollecting his visions about the house. When Mirabel enters the room, she finds a giant cave filled with sand and witnesses a vision. According to it, Mirabel sees herself as the cause of catastrophe in the magical house.
Mirabel continues to inquire about Bruno when the family lets her know of his vision’s catastrophic effects on the house. However, Dolores overhears Mirabel when she talks about Bruno’s vision to her father. Consequently, she feels tempted to share it with everyone. This causes the house to crack further and ruin Isabelle’s engagement with Mariano. But, the family blames Mirabel for these incidents, despite her pleading.
4. Falling Action
Mirabel then follows some rats carrying pieces of Bruno’s vision and bumps into Bruno, who has been hiding between the walls. She convinces Bruno to have a vision again. Mirable and Bruno’s vision starts the same, but a butterfly leads them to a scene where Mirabel and Isabelle hug each other. This leads Mirable to apologize to Isabelle for ruining her engagement. During their talk, Mirabel discovers that Isabelle had agreed to the marriage for the family, and she was not personally interested in marrying Mariano. This incident relieves Isabelle, which heals the house and the magic.
However, Alma thinks Mirabel hurt the family and the magic as she was not granted any gift. This angers Mirable, who snaps at her for constant mistreatment and pressurizes the family to stick to perfectionism. She also reveals that Alma is the one who hurt the family and is the reason for Bruno’s disappearance. During this moment, the house faces a severe catastrophe, leaving the members of the Madrigal family devoid of powers. This makes Mirabel guilty, and she runs away to the river where Pedro lost his life.
Alma soon finds Mirabel and accepts her faults. But on the other hand, Mirabel also acknowledges Alma’s burden of building the family alone. As understanding blooms, Mirabel hugs Alma while Bruno appears. Bruno takes the blame for the destruction of the house and reconciles with Alma.
The Madrigal family then decides to build the house together. Mirabel attaches a doorknob to their home when they finish it, bringing back Casita alive and their family’s magical powers.
A well-plotted story is the essence of the art of storytelling. Although it helps you explore different dimensions of a specific situation, it leaves the viewers and readers to decide their learning.