The Difference Between Plot and Story

When looking at some sites about plot and story, I ran across this quote (or misquote?) a few times:

The king died and then the queen died.

The king died and then the queen died of grief.

The first sentence is a story, while the second is a plot. Apparently this example comes from E.M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel. According to this review, the book is 175 pages of must-read material!

Anyway, I do like that example of his. I also like this explanation:

A story is a series of events recorded in their chronological order.

A plot is a series of events deliberately arranged so as to reveal their dramatic, thematic, and emotional significance.

The way I think of it, a plain story is like history: boring. ;) But a plot is someone’s telling of the story. It may be biased or inaccurate, but it’s more interesting! Many works of fiction are based on the same basic stories or actual events. Is there even such a thing as a truly original story? I doubt it.

I’m sure I’m not the only one that gets frustrated when trying to come up with an original story. Everything’s been done before! I need to constantly remind myself that the originality is all in the plot, the telling of the story.

68 thoughts on “The Difference Between Plot and Story

    • a plot is basically a settng of the story as it is whereas a story line is more like a summary of the story and does not take you into details of the story as the plot will atually do. the plot tells what happens and why it happened.

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  1. I think this thing is just confusing I wish we didnt have to distinguish between the two the meanings overlap and its all the same to me. In theory it appears as though its easy to differentiate but when analysing a story to find the plot and story its virtually impossible to sift out the different things. Anyway thats wat I think

  2. To my own understanding, there is no diff btw a plot and a story. Both is a form of narrating an event bcos both have characters.

    • wrong, in a film a story doesnt have to be explicitly told, t could be implied. Like the plot for lord of the rings would be frodo bringing the ring to mordor. The story would involve everything that happened before LOTR started like everything that happened in The Hobbit

  3. To Gladys:

    No, you are quite wrong. The Story is events in chronological order, and a plot is events both diegetic and non, that are told in a certain form (or order) that is deliberately constructed to highlight certain meanings, motifs, symbols, and feelings. If you have ever seen a movie with a flashback, or even many flashbacks, say “Flags of our Fathers” then you will see that chronologically it is a few brief war scenes and the war bond campaign trail that followed, while its complicated flashback narrative tells us that the film is really about a question of heroism exploitation. How there is no intrinsically heroic action, and the creation of heroes and icons is a practice that strips the humanity and the consequence of human memory of meaning from those involved.

    In short, your “own understanding” is just so uninformed and poorly stated that the film critic in me is crying inside.

    • People ask these questions here because they dont understand their textbook. It looks like you just took that out of a textbook I dont understand anything you said!!! You can not think that everyone understands big words and things you need to break it down dumb style for people like me because you just confused the heck out of me with you post.

  4. whalemenace did you take that straight from a textbook (I’m sure you know which one)? Anyway good example with a film like Flags of our fathers. citizen Kane is the definitive film with regards to analysing plot and story though.

  5. I did not take it directly from a textbook… but I did regurgitate it from film class, which is about the same thing. I had to write a paper on flags/letters and how their narrative structure changed the focus of the films despite centering around the same event. Contemplating that is actually what lead me to this page.

    Also were you insinuating that you know the textbook? in our class we used “looking at movies”, but I never bought it.

  6. Wow, here I thought this little blurb I wrote would never see the light of day, but it turns out people are running across it somehow!

    This is an interesting discussion, too. The dictionary definitions of plot and story don’t really indicate any significant differences between the two. And in everyday usage, plot and story are just synonyms.

    So I wonder… did these two words have overlapping meanings first, and then they got picked up by the film and literature world? Or did they start with the more precise meanings, only to be mixed up by the general public?

  7. Flags of our fathers was a good example, i wish id though of it, i was in a rush to do my coursework, and ended up using i robot as my example text…

  8. I’m not sure if i quite get the difference with plot and story.

    Is the story just all the events that happen in order without details such as emotions and reasons why things happened.

    Is the plot how the story is told in a film. So it doesn’t have to be in order.

  9. The only thing that seems to perk my interest is if they started out with the same meaning or not.

    You may say they have different meaning, but do they really? Is it possible for me to tell the plot without telling the story? Is it possible for me to have a sqaure without a rectangle?

    (well technicly a rectangle is not necessarily a sqaure so you could have a rectangle without a sqaure) I wonder if thats the only real difference between plot and story to this day. So by telling the plot you will reveal the story. Also if story is simply a ‘series of events in order’ then what about story tellers?

  10. So story is a story and the plot is an arrangement of events in the story. Am I understanding it correctly? Even if not, it didn’t prevent me from completing a novel. I don’t think you need to be consciously aware of the difference when you write.
    In short you don’t have to know what are you doing? Writing a story or a plot.
    God, I am getting a headache.

  11. The world of film theory seems to have jargonised a number of terms, to fit with rather self-aggrandising notions of the methods and skills used in film production, and perhaps even more those of film criticism.

    For instance, it would be quite easy to make a case from their everyday meanings that ‘plot’ is the structure of events and relations whether linear or not, and ‘story’ the exposition and explanation of connecting themes, motivations and contexts. Or again, the word ‘diegetic’ is used in a sense radically different from, and in part opposite to, its traditional one – ‘diegesis’ means ‘narration’ or ‘telling the story’ everywhere else, as opposed to ‘drama’ or ‘showing the story’ which is ‘mimesis’.

    It’s both easy and common for specialists (whether professionals or priests or pundits) to try to elevate and demarcate their area of interest through obfuscation of language and the use of terms with meanings different from or opposite to those in general use. Unfortunately these jargons tend to encapsulate and propagate the theoretical analyses or perspectives which gave birth to them, making orthodoxy hard to debate in its own language.

    So classes give you the terms of debate whilst circumscribing the ways in which you can approach your subject.

  12. the difference is a story is written chronologically while a plot is a series of events arranged to bring out the authors intended meaning

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  14. my understanding is way off i guess. i havve read that plot and story are completely separate elements. plot is stuff. story is feeling:

    “the phone rang, she picked it up. She inhaled deeply. She began to wail uncontrollably. Tears, like a waterfall, flooded her eyes, erratic patterns of eyeliner drew maps to madness on her cheeks .”
    that’s plot. stuff that happened.

    “the phone rang, she reached out and picked it up.It was Angela.
    “Missy, Missy, oh my God, Harry’s been killed! a leopard fell from a tree right on top of him! He’s dead!”
    Missy hung up the phone.
    Now, all was lost. Their future, gone. Everything she had planned, wiped out by one gravity challenged Leopard! NOOOO! She began to wail uncontrollably, tears flooded her eyes. She threw the phone as hard as she could. It shattered on the stone of the fireplace before her, fragments of her perfect life.
    thats what i understand is the difference between plot and story. Plot is “she cried”. Story is “she cried because…”.
    what does the forum think?

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  16. plot is the narration of event with respect to cause and effect and a story is also a narration of events with respect to time.now there is really not a big difference between the two, it just how how one chooses to narrate an event. if someone narrates an event and state the cause and effect of what happened that is plot.if someone narrates an event just as it happened in time that is the story.
    eg After leaving the house, she passed by the church to pray before going to the office-story
    after leaving the house, she went to the church to pray for forgiveness because she had fought her husband,before leaving for the office-plot

  17. well I agree with the explanation of E.M.forster that story is a substance of continued events and plot is sth deliberatkey planned in order to effect or to arouse the feelings of the audience.

  18. dear i think you are wrong becouse plot and story is two different things,but any how if you clearify to us we shall be very thankful

  19. thanks! that was really helpful. honestly, i thought it was two similar words also, but now that i understand the exact defintion, it helps when I’m reading a book or short story. The examples were a great way to show the difference between writing a story and writing a plot! thanks again

  20. The plot is what is explicitly shown to the viewer, whereas the story is that PLUS what you’ve inferred or figured out for yourself.
    For example Pulp Fiction; John Travolta’s character gets killed in the middle of the PLOT (what images we’re provided), but we see him again at the end of the plot.
    The STORY is a combo of what we’ve seen (plot), and what we’ve pieced together: his death actually occurs towards the end of the story, but the middle of the plot.
    You split the two up for analysis purposes mainly; another interesting example is the idea of time against plot/story. A plot can span across 4-5 days but the story might be 50 years long with the use of flashbacks and inferring events that we don’t explicitly see.
    If the ‘textbook’ you’re referring to is Thompson and Bordwell – it’s all there, 9th edition page 80-85.

  21. I think an interesting example to help distinguish plot and story in cinema can be seen the timeline of Scorsese films with the release of “The Departed”, which he claimed was the first film in which he incorporates a plot, as opposed to every one of his previous films, storytelling triumphs in their own right, but tangibly exclusive of a plot–I might add, interestingly revealing the title as self-referential. Another good example of a director who intentionally excludes plots are all Wes Anderson films, save Fantastic Mr. Fox perhaps due to the fact characters reveal their intention to make decisions based on a seemingly apparent reaction to an event prior in the story. This is not to say that characters in his other films do not react the same, but the difference being, a plot structure exudes a sort of linearity as opposed to a discreet nature whereby events challenge the viewer to fill the gaps between scenes with their own assumptions or, inversely, question the motivations of the characters, if there be any at all to be derived from the scene other than the factual event of the scene for its own sake. I would have to state here that It would seem then that the original post regarding story (events occuring), and plot (events occuring because of some impetus), would in fact be accurate, however, I would have to disagree with the conclusion that better films necessitate plot form for originality. I would argue the opposite contention apparent in the progressive direction of sophistication in film-making, a current trend-quality. Plots, in my honesty opinion, have become a sort of out-dated crutch, a dinosauric modality, like an actor overacting. The subtle, and gentle decline of plot since the 1950’s in cinema is apparent in the technique of directing, editing, and storytelling, but I believe primarily in the department of editing, whereby the leaders of film are more interested in implicit response rather than the engineered response, increasing viewer participation by intentionally leaving out the ‘appropriate response’. This leads viewers to further investigate the meanings between events, if that be even the point of the event as an addition to the film in the first place, if the intent of the film-maker is to evoke a dream-like quality to film (coen brothers), an absurdist approach (anderson), convey a pastiche of historical memories & montages (spielberg/crowe), or relish in directorial privilege utilizing evocative story-structure and set-pieces (tarantino). In the end, even the word ‘plot’ seems dead and anachronistic to today’s film standards just like the word ‘computer’, and understandably, tangibly, absent, other than as a stylistic device (the departed), a sophisticated directorial ploy intended to raise questions of the characters’ cohabitation to the story in relation to their servitude to the plot.

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  22. I have always been confused to make a difference between plot and story line but from my teacher’s explanation and from others point of view i have come to say that a story line is a series of events arranged in an orderly manner without going into details thus leaving the audience in suspense while a plot gives the audience ideas on themes and other literary elements as it gives every detail of the story.

  23. Plot is Physical – What is happneing to them or where are they going, how do they get there. Excitement scenes or action.
    Story is Emotional – The inner thoughts of the charecters and how they get thorugh it and how its changes them.
    That is how I see it. In order to have an (on the edge experience) I would think a good portion of each is needed working together to make the outcome complete.
    I am just now starting my first book hope to be completed sometime next year as I am in no hurry. Just my two scents.

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