A plot refers to the sequence of events that make up a story. It’s the main storyline that is driven by characters and their actions and reactions to certain situations. The plot usually follows a structure that includes the introduction, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution.
To understand the plot and structure in literature, pay attention to the following factors:
- Subplots and parallel narratives
- Influence of structure on meaning
Chronology of Events
The sequence of events in a story forms the backbone of the plot. Here’s how to follow it:
- Linear Chronology – Most stories follow a straightforward, chronological order. For example, in “Harry Potter”, Harry’s life unfolds from his childhood to his years at Hogwarts and finally, his battle against Voldemort.
- Non-linear Chronology – Some stories might jump back and forth in time. Flashbacks or flash-forwards are common. For example, “The Book Thief” uses a non-linear timeline, revealing key events before they happen.
Most narratives follow a ‘dramatic arc’ with five key stages. Here’s what to look for:
- Exposition – This is where the setting, characters and initial conflict are introduced. For example, in The Hobbit, the exposition introduces Bilbo, Gandalf, and the dwarves, along with their quest.
- Rising Action – This is where the conflict becomes more complicated and tension builds. In The Hobbit, this includes the various challenges the group faces on their journey.
- Climax – This is the turning point, where the tension reaches its peak. In The Hobbit, this is when Bilbo and the dwarves confront the dragon, Smaug.
- Falling Action – This is where the tension decreases and the conflict begins to resolve. In The Hobbit, this occurs after Smaug’s defeat, as the characters deal with the aftermath.
- Resolution – This is where the story wraps up and any remaining loose ends are tied. In The Hobbit, this is Bilbo’s return home and the final reflections on his adventure.
Subplots and Parallel Narratives
Subplots or parallel narratives can add depth to the main plot. Here’s how to identify them:
- Subplots – These are secondary stories that complement the main plot. For example, in Romeo and Juliet, the feud between the Montagues and Capulets is a subplot that impacts the main love story.
- Parallel Narratives – These are stories that run alongside the main plot, often intersecting at key points. For example, in The Lord of the Rings, the separate journeys of Frodo and Aragorn run parallel before converging.
Influence of Structure on Meaning
The way a story is structured can impact its meaning and effect. Here’s how to analyse this:
- Pacing – The speed at which the plot unfolds can create suspense or allow for deep character development. A fast-paced thriller might keep you on the edge of your seat, while a slow-paced drama might offer deeper insight into characters’ inner lives.
- Point of View – The perspective from which the story is told can influence how events are interpreted. For example, a first-person narrative might provide an intimate insight into the narrator’s thoughts and feelings, while a third-person narrative might offer a broader view of events.
- Order of Events – The sequence in which events are presented can create surprise or dramatic irony. For example, revealing a key event in a flashback can change the way earlier events are understood.