Guide to Literary Terms

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What is plot?

Plot is the series of events that occur in a narrative work.


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Last Updated May 26, 2023.

In literary contexts, a plot is a sequence of events as they appear in a story. Typically, a plot is structured around a conflict resolved through rising action, a climax, and denouement. The word plot can also refer specifically to the primary plot within a story containing one or more subplots. 

Plot is a tool that allows a writer to structure a story in the way they think is best. A plot may start amid the action and share some information through backstory. In contrast, the term story refers to events as they occur chronologically. Plot also differs from narrative, which refers to the particular manner in which a story’s events are told. 

The word plot derives from Old English, which means “a plot of land.” It may be related to the Old French word complot, which means “secret plan.”

In Poetics, Aristotle broke down the genre of tragedy into six elements, including plot, which he stated was the most important. He asserted that a plot must have a beginning, middle, and end. 

see: climaxanticlimaxdenouementexpositionnarrativesubplot

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