Role of Plot in a Narrative

by Madhulika Ra Chauhan

In literature, the term plot is used to describe the events that make up a story or the main part of a story. These events relate to each other in a pattern or a sequence. The structure of a novel depends on the organization of events in the plot of the story.

Every story is made up of both events and characters. A story happens because a pattern is interrupted. Much like a moving object is forced to either turn its way or twist by means of diversions on the path, so does the story – moves through the various variations in the plot. The plot is what happens in a story. However, a plot is not a simple sequence of events.

  • A strong plot is centered on one moment or perhaps an interruption of a pattern, a turning point, or an action—that raises a dramatic question, which must be answered throughout the course of the story.
  • Every element of the plot—each scene, each line—exists in service of answering that question. There are countless plot devices that can strengthen and reinforce the main story

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7 Types of Plots

The nature of the dramatic question informs the plot and what kind of story it will be. Are the characters threatened by something external or internal? What genre will the story be?

  1. Tragedy. In a tragedy, your main character should undergo a major change of fortune — almost always from good to bad, happy to sad. Tragic characters inherentlymust suffer.
  • Comedy. In comedy, even though your characters have defects, their defects should never wind up being painful or destructive. Comic characters make it through unscathed. Wit rules.
  • Hero’s Journey. In a “hero’s journey,” the hero of a story must undergo two things: recognition and reversal of a situation. Something ought to happen from the outside that inspires the hero in a way that he/she didn’t realize before, forcing him to undertake a quest to solve the situation.
woman reading a book and drinking coffee
  • Rags to Riches. A la Cinderella. The classic fairy tale follows a simple rags-to-riches plot: the protagonist is downtrodden, impoverished, or otherwise struggling, and through a series of events–either magical, like in the case of Harry Potter, or more realistic, like in Great Expectations–achieves success. This type of plot often features a happy ending.
  • Rebirth. The rebirth style of plot follows a character’s transformation from bad to good. The character will frequently have a tragic past that informs their current negative view of life, however, a series of events (usually set in motion by the protagonist or a narrator) will help them see the light. The transformation of Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, or the Beast in Beauty and the Beast.
  • Overcoming the Monster. Also known as the good versus evil plot, this type of story features a protagonist (good) fighting an antagonist (evil). The protagonist can be a singular character, or a group united in their mission. The antagonist is generally a big, bad evil (like Darth Vader in Star Wars) who continuously throws obstacles in the protagonist’s way—until the final battle.
  • Voyage and Return. This plot is a simple point A to point B and back to point A plot. The protagonist sets off on a journey, only to return to his or her starting point having gained wisdom and experience (and sometimes treasure too). Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist is a beloved contemporary illustration of this plot.

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Some outlines of Plot which show the flow of the story as it moves from exposition to conflict and then on to resolution.

  1. In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth and her sisters are young, unmarried, poor women in England. An eligible bachelor moves into the neighborhood and falls for Elizabeth’s sister Jane. His friend Mr. Darcy also falls for Elizabeth, but he fights against it and wounds her pride. The conflict is resolved when Elizabeth realizes her true feelings and agrees to marry Mr. Darcy.

2.   In The Hunger Games, Katniss must represent her district in the games after she takes the place of her younger sister. She and the boy representative from her district, Peeta, must fight young representatives from other districts. The conflict is finally resolved when, in a climactic moment, Katniss and Peeta decide to kill themselves rather than kill each other. Those behind the games halt the games and declare them both the winners.

  • In Charlotte’s Web, Wilbur is saved from death by Fern, but then he is sent to live at her uncle’s farm, where the plan is that he will one day be butchered. Charlotte, a spider, helps to save Wilbur’s life by writing words about him in her web. He wins the county fair and is saved, but Charlotte passes away.

No matter how and what format one decides to write, a plot helps to frame a skeleton on which to flesh the story. Good luck plotting yours.

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