Know the difference between Plot vs. Story?

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One of the biggest tools in any writer’s toolbox is to know the difference between plot and story. If it’s not clearly defined in the planning stages of fiction writing, the narrative becomes unclear to the reader.

Have you ever read something that was all action or dialogue? At the end of the piece, if you make it that far, you scratch your head and think, what was the point of that? The reason behind the head scratching is because you didn’t experience the story. You only watched the plot unfold.

Well then, what is the difference between plot vs. story?  Well, to answer, one has to do with the emotional journey of the protagonist and the other deals with the action or physical movements of the story.

Plot is the physical actions in the story. It’s the bad guy playing a trick on your protagonist. For example, the villain cuts the brakes of your hero’s truck, kidnaps the your heroine’s pet chinchilla or even attempts to shoot of them. Anything that is physical in nature is considered plot.

Plot can also be your protagonist’s actions. For the purpose of wooing the heroine, he fights off the destructive dragon threatening her village, or he pulls her off the tracks a moment before the steam engine cuts her to pieces, or he duels at dawn to save her reputation and honor. See the trend here?  It’s all about the action, movements, and excitement of the moment through the physical world. The plot should have your readers at the edge of their seats, biting their nails and making them want to turn the page.

dramaStory is another thing entirely. It’s the emotional journey of your protagonist and only your protagonist. Sure other characters can show feelings too, but through actions and dialogue. We as readers, don’t need to see their emotional changes from start to finish, not like we do with the main character, and as writer’s how would we keep up with everyone chatting in our heads, having hissy fits? So ask yourself when you sit down to write, do I really need to show the bartender having a bad day because his wife ran off the UPS guy? Not if his only purpose is to set down the shot glass in front of your hero.

As a side note” In romance, you may see the emotional journeys from both the hero and heroine’s POV (point of view, but that’s a wild cat with different spots.)

The story is not seen in the physical sense, it’s felt by your readers. This is where the dreaded ‘Show don’t Tell’ comes into play. We want our readers to experience the emotional journey of our protagonist(s) not just watch them act it out.

Another good point to remember is story drives your plot. All of the physical derives from the emotional journey of your main character. In order to truly understand this journey, you have to ask yourself some questions before you sit down to writer.

Ask yourself: What is my protagonist’s mental state at the beginning of the story and how did he/she get there? What is his/her main insecurity or flaw that needs to be realized and worked out? What emotional changes will take place after the insecurity is faced?

Here is a brief example of how to use these questions in a story line. My protagonist has low self-confidence (her flaw), stemming from neglectful parents(the reason for her behavior.) As an adult she begins working for a boss who doesn’t give her any direction in her new job. because she doesn’t like to make waves (her flaw) she doesn’t ask for what she needs. After a while she makes a big mistake that could cost her everything she’s worked so hard for. The mistake would have been avoided if she had, had proper training.

What she does next is her story. Does she stand up for herself and save her job, which would be something unusual for her? Or will she slide back into old patterns? Believing she is worthless she leaves quietly knowing she is the one to blame for the mishap. This choice reinforces her self loathing and sinks her deeper into her depressive state. See, it’s all emotionally charged. If you were writing a tragedy, she would lose her job because she will not realize she needed to change to get what she wants.

Now you know the difference between Plot vs. Story.  Try to use it the next time you write a scene.

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3 thoughts on “Know the difference between Plot vs. Story?

  1. Kimberley Dow

    Thank you for this. I find it’s easy to want to throw a scene in, but if it doesn’t move things along in the story i’m trying to convey it gets lost

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