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. A story gives us only “what happened next,” whereas plot’s concern is “what, how, and why,” with scenes ordered to highlight the workings of cause and effect… E. M. Forster distinguishes between plot and story by describing story as:
the chopped off length of the tape worm of time… a narrative of events arranged in their time sequence. A plot is also a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality. ‘The king died and then the queen died,’ is a story. ‘The king died and then the queen died of grief,’ is a plot. The time sequence is preserved, but the sense of causality overshadows it. Or again: ‘The queen died, no one knew why, until it was discovered that it was through grief at the death of the king.’ This is a plot with a mystery in it, a form capable of high development. It suspends the time sequence, it moves as far away from the story as its limitations will allow. Consider the death of the queen. If it is in a story we say, ‘and then?’ If it is in a plot we ask, ‘why?'” (Writing Fiction)
Freytag’s [frī-täks] Pyramid
Gustav Freytag was a 19th century German novelist. He recognized patterns in many stories and developed the following diagram as a basic schematic for storytelling:
Literary narratives or character-based narratives will often focus the plot and climax on internal conflicts (character versus self) more so than external conflicts, though, external conflicts will inform the internal conflicts. In a literary narrative, the peak of the climax will be less pronounced and in literary novels, the pyramid will often take a multitiered structure. Imagine several pyramids, one after another, overlapping. In a short short fiction narrative, the pyramid will often begin close to the climax, giving the reader very little exposition, rising action and so on.
More formulaic storytelling, such as romance and crime narratives will often focus the plot on external conflicts as much or more so as the internal conflict (character versus self). At The Eckleburg Workshops, we focus on character-based, literary aesthetics and narratives, though, we value and encourage crossover aesthetics as long as the narrative has a character-based focus.
There is no one way to address plot within a narrative. Some writers will begin with a general plot, adapting it along the way. Others will write and discover the plot as the narrative reveals itself. One way to determine the plot(s) within a manuscript is to study the scenes of the entire narrative.
Choose a manuscript that has been completed and is in the revision stage. Study each scene, giving each one a title that includes main characters, iconic entities, setting, etc. Make a list of these scene titles. For example, if you are using MS Word, use the outline feature. Once you have only the scene titles and essential information in front of you, study the progression of the story, what the characters motivations are, how the overall arc resolves, etc. Try, best as you can, to whittle the entire manuscript, be it a short story, essay or full length book, into a single sentence that describes the central plot or plots.
This revisionary technique is also helpful in determining the overall outline of the narrative. By studying the scenes, you can decide if one or more scenes are out of order—i.e., are there too many flashbacks or flash forwards?
Submit to Eckleburg
We accept previously unpublished and polished prose up to 8,000 words year round, unless announced otherwise. We are always looking for tightly woven short works under 2,000 words and short-shorts around 500 words. No multiple submissions but simultaneous is fine as long as you withdraw the submission asap through the submissions system. During the summer and winter months, we run our Writers Are Readers, Too, fundraiser when submissions are open only to subscribers. During the fall and spring, we open submissions for regular unsolicited submissions.
Note: We consider fiction, poetry and essays that have appeared in print, online magazines, public forums, and public access blogs as already being published. Rarely do we accept anything already published and then only by solicitation. We ask that work published at Eckleburg not appear elsewhere online, and if republished in print, original publication credit is given to The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review. One rare exception is our annual Gertrude Stein Award, which allows for submissions of previously published work, both online and print. Submit your work.
Take advantage of our $5 work-at-your-own-pace writing workshops where you can create new work as well as fine tune work you’ve already written. Fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction and more, Eckleburg Workshops offer writing prompts and craft techniques that will take your work to the next level.
Work with a Reedsy Editor for Individualized Attention
Submit your work for developmental editing, line editing, copy editing, editorial assessment and more at Reedsy.com, where hundreds of experienced, awarded writers and editors are ready to read your work and help you make it the best it can be.
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