Story vs. Plot

If you do any writing, or read about anyone writing then you have heard these two terms before. Story and Plot. The words are everywhere. Many times people will use them interchangeably. I am guilty of doing this myself sometimes. Or of using them without explaining what I mean. I have been known to mention telling a good story which actually beldns both plot and story into one lump.

While this is a very simple concept, learning the difference between the two was, for me, one of the biggest Ah Ha moments of my life. It made a lot of things inside my brain click into place. And it is so simple.

If you already know this, bear with me.

Plot is the physical situations your character moves through to get from point A to point B.

  • Bob leaves work and goes home.
  • Bob goes to talk to his neighbor.
  • Bob and neighbors flee the neighborhood looking to escape the city.
  • They fight through downed power lines, toppled trees and busted water mains to break free.
  • Bob goes to the nursing home to pick up his neighbor’s stranded friend.
  • Bob goes to the Bowl – A Rama to fight the slug monster general.

Plot is the physical journey.

Story is the emotional journey.

  • Because everyone in Bob’s life has died he doesn’t get close to people because he knows they will leave him.
  • He feels left behind and worthless.
  • He believes caring for others is pointless as they will all leave him.
  • Bob flees with his neighbors because they have no other hope of getting out.
  • Bob’s self worth grows as he is able to help their little group overcome obstacles.
  • Bob feels like he is part of a team.
  • Bob feels responsibility for the people with him.
  • He realizes that for the good of all of them, he needs to leave them behind and go to the Bowl-a-rama alone.
  • He realizes that he is willing to sacrifice for them the way others sacrificed for him, which bends how he felt about his past.
  • In facing down the Slug monster Bob realizes that there is much more to him than he thought and that he isn’t worthless and that even though they are gone the people he loved are still in part with him.

While you can tell a tale featuring only plot, it will be a bit lifeless. I’m not entirely certain you can tell a tale with just story, but i’m sure someone has tried.

To tell a really good tale, you need to blend story and plot together. Think of it as one organism. The plot is the bones and the story is the squishy bits. To have a fully living breathing organism you need both. It’s no good leaving out the lungs because the creature won’t breathe.

In most books the main character learns things along the way and ends the tale being something different than when they started. Now it doesn’t mean your scruffy lone wolf character needs to lead the town in a song of hope while holding hands around a campfire. Each character’s journey is going to be unique to them and fit with the character you designed. Not everyone is Bob. And in the end Bob’s story as I finally write it, may end up different. At the moment he is just an illustration.

And yes at some point I will sit down, gather my notes and complete the novel Bob Versus.

Then of course i’ll have to invent a Jane or maybe even a Steve or Nancy to put through the ringer.

The entire point it that Plot and Story are two different things that need to be blended together as you write. It is where story and Plot combine that you get the most memorable and moving tales, regardless of the genre. I don’t know who needs to hear this, but when I actually had it layed oud for me, it made a resounding click in my brain and as a consequence, I think my writing became better because of it. I hope this simple, yet important concept helps you out as well.

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