Plot outline

Plot is a literary term defined as the events that make up a story, particularly as they relate to one another in a pattern, in a sequence, through cause and effect, how the reader views the story, or simply by coincidence. One is generally interested in how well this pattern of events accomplishes some artistic or emotional effect. An intricate, complicated plot is called an imbroglio, but even the simplest statements of plot may include multiple inferences, as in traditional ballads.[1]

Aristotle on plot

In his Poetics, Aristotle considered plot (mythos) the most important element of drama—more important than character, for example. A plot must have, Aristotle says, a beginning, a middle, and an end, and the events of the plot must causally relate to one another as being either necessary or probable. (Poetics 23.1459a.)

Of the utmost importance to Aristotle is the plot's ability to arouse emotion in the psyche of the audience. In tragedy, the appropriate emotions are fear and pity, emotions which he considers in his Rhetoric. (Aristotle's work on comedy has not survived.)

Aristotle goes on to consider whether the tragic character suffers (pathos), and whether or not the tragic character commits the error with knowledge of what he is doing. He illustrates this with the question of a tragic character who is about to kill someone in his family.

The worst situation [artistically] is when the personage is with full knowledge on the point of doing the deed, and leaves it undone. It is odious and also (through the absence of suffering) untragic; hence it is that no one is made to act thus except in some few instances, e.g., Poetics book 14)Plot is a literary term defined as the events that make up a story, particularly as they relate to one another in a pattern, in a sequence, through cause and effect, how the reader views the story, or simply by coincidence. One is generally interested in how well this pattern of events accomplishes some artistic or emotional effect. An intricate, complicated plot is called an imbroglio, but even the simplest statements of plot may include multiple inferences, as in traditional ballads.

Freytag on Plot

Main article: Dramatic structure

Gustav Freytag considered plot a narrative structure that divides a story into five parts, like the five acts of a play. These parts are: exposition (of the situation); rising action (through conflict); climax (or turning point); falling action; and resolution.

Exposition

The exposition introduces all of the main characters in the story. It shows how they relate to one another, what their goals and motivations are, and the kind of person they are. The audience may have questions about any of these things, which get settled, but if they do have them they are specific and well-focused questions. Most importantly, in the exposition, the audience gets to know the main character (protagonist), and the protagonist gets to know his or her main goal and what is at stake if he or she fails to attain this goal and if he eventually attains this goal

This phase ends, and the next begins, with the introduction of conflict.

Rising action

Rising action is the second phase in Freytag's five-phase structure. It starts with the death of the characters or a conflict.

"Conflict" in Freytag's discussion must not be confused with "conflict" in Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch's critical apparatus to categorize plots into types, e.g., man vs. society. The difference is that an entire story can be discussed according to Quiller-Couch's mode of analysis, while Freytag is talking about the second act in a five-act play, at a time when all of the major characters have been introduced, their motives and allegiances have been made clear (at least for the most part), and they now begin to struggle against one another.

Generally, in this phase the protagonist understands his or her goal and begins to work toward it. Smaller problems thwart their initial success and, in this phase, progress is directed primarily against these secondary obstacles. This phase shows us how the protagonist overcomes these obstacles.

Inciting Incident

Right before the Climax is the Inciting Incident. This is the point of the plot that acts as a turning point and prepares the audience for the climax. In other structural criteria, the Inciting Incident is the event at the end of the Exposition that initiates the plot. The event in the middle is the Technical Climax, or the Reversal.

Climax

The point of climax is the turning point of the story, where the main character makes the single big decision that defines the outcome of the story and who he or she is as a person. The dramatic phase that Freytag called the "climax" is the third of the five phases and occupies the middle of the story. Thus "the climax" may refer to either the point of climax or to the third phase of the drama.

The beginning of this phase is marked by the protagonist finally having cleared away the preliminary barriers and being ready to engage with the adversary. Usually, entering this phase, both the protagonist and the antagonist have a plan to win against the other. Now for the first time we see them going against one another in either direct or nearly direct conflict.

This struggle results with neither character completely winning, nor losing, against the other. Usually, each character's plan is partially successful, and partially foiled by his adversary. What is unique about this central struggle between the two characters is that the protagonist makes a decision which shows us his moral quality, and ultimately determines his fate. In a tragedy, the protagonist here makes a "bad" decision, a miscalculation that demonstrates his tragic flaw.

The climax often contains much of the action in a story, for example, a defining battle.

″Climax″ is the highest point of the story.

Falling action

Freytag called this phase "falling action" in the sense that the loose ends are being tied up. However, it is often the time of greatest overall tension, because it is the phase in which everything goes mostly wrong.

In this phase, the villain has the upper hand. It seems that evil will triumph. The protagonist has never been further from accomplishing the goal. For Freytag, this is true both in tragedies and comedies, because both of these types of plots classically show good winning over evil. The question is which side the protagonist has put himself on, and this may not be immediately clear to the audience.

Denouement

The Resolution: where the story's mystery is solved. In this stage all patterns of events accomplish some artistic or emotional effect.

Plot devices

Main article: Plot device

A plot device is a means of advancing the plot in a story, often used to motivate characters, create urgency, or resolve a difficulty. This can be contrasted with moving a story forward with narrative (or dramatic) technique; that is, by making things happen because characters take action for well-motivated reasons. As an example, when the cavalry shows up at the last moment and saves the day in a battle, that can be argued to be a plot device; when an adversarial character who has been struggling with himself saves the day due to a change of heart, that is dramatic technique.

Familiar types of plot devices include the Deus ex machina, the MacGuffin, the red herring, and Chekhov's gun.

Plot outline

A plot outline is a prose telling of a story to be turned into a screenplay. Sometimes called a "one page" (one-page synopsis, about 1-3 pages in length). It is generally longer and more detailed than a standard synopsis (1-2 paragraphs), but shorter and less detailed than a treatment or a step outline. There are different ways to create these outlines and they vary in length, but are essentially the same thing.

In comics, a pencil, often pluralized as "pencils", refers to a stage in the development where the story has been broken down very loosely in a style similar to storyboarding in film development.

The pencils will be very loose (i.e., the rough sketch), the main goals being to lay out the flow of panels across a page, to ensure the story successfully builds suspense and to work out points of view, camera angles, and character positions within panels. This can also be referred to as a "plot outline" or a "layout".

See also

References

External links

  • The "Basic" Plots In Literature, Information on the most common divisions of the basic plots, from the Internet Public Library organization.
  • Plot on TV Tropes, a wiki catalog of the tricks of the trade for writing fiction
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