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PLOT: What is it? Why is it? Why does a writer care?

Answer any of the following questions, or ask and answer your own questions about plot.

  • How does John Barth define plot? Do you agree or disagree with his definition? Which parts of it seemed particularly useful or debatable?
  • How important is plot in your enjoyment of a story? Is it the most important thing, somewhere in the middle, or do you not care about it at all?
  • Could you describe the plot of one of the short-shorts we read in a single short sentence?
  • If you have written stories, do you think about plot first, or something else? Where do your plots "come from"?

Comments

When I’m reading a story, particularly a novel, my enjoyment is only partially plot-based. I definitely expect to be presented with a strong plot, so am monstrously irritated when I read a whole novel and find that it went nowhere. Though, if the characters are drab and the action just as dull, even a stalwart plot cannot save a story.

Referring to the fourth bullet, I usually do think about plot first however, it's just a vague storyline that still needs to develop. In most cases, the plot gets ten times more complicated (or changes completely) as I write the story. During the process of developing plot, I get much inspiration from music and in most cases, just from a series of daydreams affected and inspired by foreign drama series.

It is not the plot necessarily that makes me enjoy the story but the character development. I feel more connection with the characters and tend to identify myself with them so it means more to me to have interesting characters that change throughout the story than the plot is.

I find plot to be very important. It is not enjoyable to read something that moves too slowly or too quikly. The writer needs to find a happy medium. If you don't have a good plot how do you tell the story.

When I write stories, I tend to let the plot just flow. I have some kind of idea where I want the story to end up, but I put a more time and thought into my characters. Characters are the most important aspect of a story in my opinion. I've also run across novels that had amazing, well thought out plots, but I couldn't relate to the characters at all. That really takes me out of a story and can ruin an otherwise good book.

there are a few writers who get away with poor character development, but it has to have a ridiculously complex plot (chuck palahniuk for example) to make that work i think. a good plot can't save a story where the characters are annoying stupid or unreal. i've tried writing plot-driven stories, but usually the characters have to be the reason for what's going on, not the plot being the reason for a person to be there. the plot can't be an afterthought, though, it has to be just as smart as the character making things happen.

the plot has to be just as smart as the character in the story making things happen. it can't be an afterthought, but the characterization has to be really good. i was editing a friend's story recently and i couldn't read much because there were no specifics. things happened in the story that had no depth at all, it was a plot twist but there wasn't any character present, only an eyeball moving around and seeing something happen. it was actually hard to read because of the lack of characterization.

sorry i posted basically the same thing again, the first didn't show up until later...

In response to point three, though I enjoyed all four short-short stories, I don't think any of them had a plot as Barth defines one, except for The Cats in the Recreation Hall. I think a plot could be guessed together for them, but I don't think any of them established a clear ground situation, and then detailed the effects of a dramatic change.

Plot is not the most important part of a story, though one can fail terribly without one. In books specifically, plot can be used to a lesser extent if there is lots of irony or great metaphores or character development, but the plot is still the backbone of the story and a good one can allow for less charachter development, etc. Going somewhere slightly different, I think a good plot is very necessary in movies, especially large hollywood productions, ones with just a bunch of violence, sex, etc., tend to fail in the long run.

For me, the plot and the story's characters are equal to a story's outcome. Since plot can be seen as the backbone of the story, I think it is the most important part, however, I think it is the characters that make us realize the plot. If we don't care about the characters, most likely, we also don't care what happens to them, and therefore, we may not care about or even notice the climax of a story. I think that the story's plot guides the author's decisions in what happens to the characters, but it is what happens to the characters that makes most readers remember the story.

Addressing point 4: When I wrote stories I always seemed to come up with detailed characters first, and then develop the plot. Then the plots usually come from wherever the charachters seem like they would fit into.

I think that plot can be more or less important depending on what genre of fiction you're reading. You obviously don't want to know who did it in the first chapter of a murder mystery. It wouldn't be enjoyable otherwise. However, in other stories the reader can know what's going to happen in the story and still find it interesting for various reasons, like character interaction. Romeo & Juliet is a good example because you know from the beginning what is going to happen, but you read to see how and why the characters get to the point where they kill themselves.

In response to bullet four, plot is not my first concern when I am writing a story. Rather, I try to build my stories around an emotion or set of emotions my characters will experience. From the emotion, I construct a rough outline of a plot, but the plot is hardly set in stone and will often change when the character experiences an emotion differently than I imagined. I personally believe that plot, although essential to a story, is not at all the most important part. A great plot is hard to get behind if you do not believe the characters presented.

In response to the fourth bullet, stories I write are sparked by a random, inspired idea or main theme. From this idea I generally think of and consider the most appropriate directions my plot could take. These directions spawn character profiles, settings, dialogue, etc., to compliment the main theme. So for me, the plot usually comes after I have though of the central idea of the story.

Stories are conceived from a moment of inspiration usually due to a flash of insight, but born from hard, time-consuming, and sometime tedious work.

I always think of a quote from Chuck Close whenever I am foolhardy enough to try and write a story. According to him, "Inspiration is for amateurs."

I would like to respond to the second prompt, but first, must clarify a gray area my response will bring up: Part of the question asked how important the plot was to my enjoyment of the story, but it could be argued as it was at one point by Barth, that if there is no plot nor is there a story. This would mean it is of the utmost importance. However, personally I feel that reading or my enjoyment of a piece has little to do with the plot. While it can be used as a tool to draw me into the page, I can find hours of enjoyment reading just character descriptions as long as they are interesting and illuminate some aspect of that alternate reality. Plot is merely a way of changing positions giving rise to a need for new light in an area.

I agree with what Nick said, namely, that plot is not the most important thing, but it is a good thing to have around. Clever language and interesting characters can only carry you so far. Anyone who’s ever sat through a long, rambling story knows the importance of, if not plot per-se, then at the very least movement of some kind. It need not be a strict adherence to the triangle as long as it grabs the reader; like we talked about in class, Sashimi Cashmere isn't set up as exposition, conflict, complication etc, but it still moves along. Patricia Marx’s piece seems to wander from room to room as the tour continues. Barth may not define it as a story, but it fits the subject perfectly.

PS if you liked her short piece, Marx has a novel that focuses on this same kind of bitter unrequited love, Him Her Him Again The End of Him , that’s a delightful read.

Plot to me is the most central and basic part of any story. Although I do not believe the plot has to be too interesting in order for a story to be enjoyable. Plot to me is the answer to the question "What is the story about?". Whenever confronted with this question I generally give a summary of the plot in a couple of sentences, but this usually does not give it justice. A few sentence description of a plot may be pretty simplistic or boring, but that is because it strips away the meaning that comes with everything else that occurs inside the plot. In looking at what we read this week, the plot of "The Cats In The Prison Recreation Hall" can be summed up as a story about cats being exterminated in a prison. Anyone that is told this basic plot may not find that to be an interesting or enjoyable premise, but this summary of the plot doesn't do the story justice. To me the plot is important for moving action, but it does not make or break a story.

Chelsey, Lou, Artiera, and some others discussed writing stories with an idea of a character or a given emotion and, essentially, ''going with the flow.'' As much as I would like to take my spark of brilliance, sit down at a keyboard and see what develops, I can never seem to write if I haven't already decided on an end point and a few events that will get the characters from here to there. It's a pity, maybe, that I have a lot of good ideas shelled up that I can never develop into something longer. I can create a pretty picture with words, but rarely do I have the willpower to make the picture move unless I know where it's going to end up. Problem? Most likely.

Adding to the conversation of a plot making or breaking a story. I know some people feel strongly that plot is only part of it and there are many other factors that contribute to a great piece of fiction, but i think with out a great plot, none of those other things can be appreciated. The plot is the undertone, it is what subconsciously keeps you reading and appreciating what the author has to say and how he is saying it (the writer's style). i believe with out a good plot, even the best of writers will produce a sub par piece. If there is no plot but beautiful writing, it can tend to be a little over written, or if it isnt executed right. If the story is dragging on, you need to work on the "dramaturgy," you might say. In conclusion and response to the others commenting on the importance of the plot, i believe that the success of the story is completely based on the plot. Not just what the plot is about, but how it moves and where it tenses up and releases and why.

In the discussion of plot on the web and in the classroom, we have been primarily speaking of conventional plot. Conventonal plot lines are probably the "most likely to succeed" plot lines in the story realm. But there are many great stories that I have read, without a conventional plot line, that I have thoroughly enjoyed because it is written well and pieced together in a creative, interesting way. Anais Nin for example is an incredible writer that I could read forever and never tire of! Her plot lines are loose at best and are usually just vignettes or "blurbs" of scenes jammed together. Nin said that writing should be a collage of inspiration, that it should sing, cry, shout, make love, laugh, etc. And I am quite sure that I agree with her. Why must we have ingredients (exposition, climax, denoument, etc.) to create a story?