Plot vs. Story

Confusing plot and story is surprisingly common, so I think a very brief mention of the difference could be useful.

Contrary to common belief, plot is not what happens in the story. That is the story. Plot is the structure in which the story is arranged. 

The plot is the way in which the author decides to scatter crucial bits of information for the readers to put together. If you decide to write your story as, for instance, a series of flashbacks and flash-forwards, the way you structure it – beginning, middle and ending – is the plot. 

On the other hand, the events taking place in chronological order make up the story.

Let’s use this timeless theme as an example: Jim and Hannah have known each other since they were kids, as teenagers they fall in love, Hannah’s father opposes marriage, Hannah and Jim run away and live happily ever after. This is the story. 

The plot could be this: the opening scene shows Hannah and Jim planning to run away (middle of the story). The following scene is a flashback to Hannah’s and Jim’s childhood when they first met (beginning of the story) and so on.

In conclusion, the story is what the readers reconstruct by summarising the events in their chronological order and the plot is the order in which the story is presented to the readers. 

About Lorena Goldsmith

Literary consultant at Daniel Goldsmith Associates.
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One Response to Plot vs. Story

  1. Carrie Rubin says:

    I’ve not seen this distinction made before. Very helpful. It would seem then that one could have a strong story but a weak plot and vice versa. Both would need to be strong to ensure a good novel.

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