The “What is Plot?” Series: Definition & Categories (Part One)

Photo courtesy of mpclemens.

Plot is traditionally defined as “the story or scheme of connected events running through a novel or story.” Each event that occurs in this chain always has a cause, which then causes other events in the plot as it moves along to the climax. In her book “Writing Great Books for Young Adults,” literary agent and author Regina Brooks says, “Plot extends well beyond the boundaries of the story both into the past and the future.”

Nowhere is it written that authors have to explain every event within a story. In fact, most authors prefer to let their readers figure out those connections for themselves. Why? Because that’s what keeps people reading.

Three different categories of plots exist in the world of writing, no matter your intended audience.

  • Integrated: In this plot, the plot and the story are very closely related. Cause-and-effect events are what moves the story along and forces characters to solve whatever problems they’ve discovered.
  • Episodic: This kind of plot involves a number of incidents that more or less don’t affect the rest of the story in a big way. Brooks says, “They are often connected by a central theme, location, conflict, or character.” A novel with an episodic plot can sometimes be mistaken for a collection of short stories. Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried” and Ray Bradbury’s “Martian Chronicles” are two good examples of this.
  • Plotless: These kinds of stories, nearly non-existent in the young adult genres, have points that center around what life is about. Most of, if not all, of the story is symbolic of something bigger, such as the meaning of life.

[Which of these categories is your favorite and why? Which do you see the most in the books you read? Which is evident in your writing? Share in the comments!]

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