Saturday, June 5, 2010

Plot and Story: The Creative Process - Part Four

So, you have a Big Shiny Idea. You might even have some idea of the characters that go with that idea. Now it's time to start considering the story. (Noting again that sometimes the story comes up first. No big deal. Story and characters are like yin and yang: neither can be fully developed without having a bit of the other in the mix.)

In order to truly discuss the development of story I'm going to look at the eternal Outline vs Pantsing debate. But not in this post. First I want to discuss the (somewhat semantic) difference between Plot and Story.

For some of you, Plot and Story may be the same thing. That's cool. But in order to maintain my own sanity I separate the two. So, to make it clear in further discussions about my creative process what the hell I'm talking about, I'll explain.

Story is the... story. But in terms of a novel the story means all the stuff that happens before page one. The backstory for the characters. The history of the world. It also includes all the stuff that happens between chapters; the stuff that may not be interesting enough to make it into the Plot, but still has a bearing on how/what the characters are doing what they're doing.

Plot is the series of events that begins on page one and ends at THE END. It is all the stuff that is in your novel but none of the stuff that is not.

Confused? Yeah, me too. (Kidding.) The point is this: Plot and Story are not necessarily the same thing. Plot means that every word has a purpose and moves your characters forward to the climax of a specific series of events. Story is all of that, plus the villain's story, what your MC had for lunch with his girlfriend, where he was born and all the bits that make up the world in your head.

Of course, the trick is figuring out where the Plot separates from the Story. The general rule of thumb is that anything that doesn't move the characters forward (and that doesn't necessarily mean they keep moving toward their goal, but they have to keep moving) shouldn't be part of the novel. But the specifics get muddy. We'll talk about that in more detail once we get to the mechanics of writing drafts.

In the meantime, how do you distinguish Plot from Story?

1 comment:

G.~ said...

Hi Anna,

I never really thought about it, but it makes so much sense. Thanks for the explanation.