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Story vs Plot

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by risu, May 16, 2013.

  1. risu

    risu Troubadour

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    I've noticed something interesting among my critique partners and beta readers, which makes me think of the difference between story and plot. I have a few elements in my story that are pure story.

    Here's an example (Carla is a minor character. Segment is from Derek's POV.):

    Carla used to have an imaginary sister, but had outgrown the pretend Jasmine before Derek moved in with her family. Jasmine had been swept away by a dragon and rescued by a handsome prince. The two lived happily ever after somewhere in New York now.

    Two people said cut the entire paragraph, because it doesn't drive the plot forward. Four people commented on the paragraph saying that they loved it. The remaining didn't comment.

    Do you think some people get too caught up in plot that they forget about the story? Or does plot really outweigh the story?
     
  2. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    Maybe the paragraph doesn't fit well with the rest of the text around it, or maybe it does. It's hard to say if it should be cut without seeing the paragraph in context with at least some of the surrounding text. BUT with that said, there are three primary elements to a book/story: plot, character, and world. IMHO your words should be working to build on at least one of those three things. Optimally it should be all three, but only one is fine.

    When I read that paragraph it's at least a character building element and if this imaginary sister element comes back later in the story, it's a plot element, and maybe even a world element depending on how it plays out.
     
  3. KRHolbrook

    KRHolbrook Scribe

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    Standing alone, I'd cut it, but I don't know how it moves the story forward. I don't know if the imaginary friend is something to do with the plot or not, or if it's building character. I don't know who the prince is and why they moved on to live in New York, and why "somewhere" instead of a specific place. It makes me tilt my head more than understand things right now. It depends on you, though. Do you think it progresses things? As Penpilot said, it would have to be something that builds on character, I'd say, since it's about the character.
     
  4. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    I have a character in our books who's younger brothers replace all her pictures in the family collection with pictures of orangutans because she has fiery red hair. This does nothing to drive the story forward, but it does contribute a lot to characterization. It becomes a running gag through the series, because every once in a while, somebody new to the house will spot a picture that was missed in the initial clean-up.

    So, I would say, it's a very short section, and if it fits into the flow of the rest of the prose and doesn't snap the reader out of scene, maybe it will become useful later on - maybe you'll find out that this "imaginary" sister wasn't so imaginary after all, or it will turn out to be an early symptom of Carla's developing mental illness. You never know. Leave it, and keep writing.
     
  5. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

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    I'd say keep it. It may not directly impact the story, but it's good character development and has some flavor. Just try to transition better and make it fit with the text around it a bit more.
     
  6. Guru Coyote

    Guru Coyote Archmage

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    If you want to keep it, maybe just because it 'feels right'... just make sure if becomes relevant later on in some way. Some ways to do this have been suggested already.
    Also note that this paragraph will do one thing for sure: it will set the reader in a certain frame of mind. Me, I was very much in the 'imaginary friend' and 'castles in the sky' story mood while reading the short paragraph, a bit of children's mindset. Make sure this is what you want at that place in your larger story, or adapt or move the paragraph to better fit.
    (I loved it, it that matters. But as everyone here, I've only seen the paragraph and not the context it's in)
     
  7. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    As Penpilot said, you've got plot, character and setting, and they interact to make a story. So long as you're building on character traits which become relevant, you're fine.

    Here's the question. Is the fact that she once had an imaginary friend relevant to her character? I mean, is she still kind of quirky with a wild imagination, which reminds Derek of this story, or is this just a random anecdote common to many people who were once six years old?

    I would add a line to suggest why Derek feels this anecdote exemplifies some ongoing trait about this character, rather than cut it.
     
    Last edited: May 16, 2013
    wordwalker likes this.
  8. risu

    risu Troubadour

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    The context of the segment is that Derek and Carla are discussing his dating habits after she shoots down his flirting with her employee. He asks if the young woman has a sister and Carla says no, and even if she did, she wouldn't let him date her because sisters share everything. He then comments about her being an only child, which leads to the paragraph I posted.

    The imaginary sister doesn't really come back into play later in the story.
     
  9. Guru Coyote

    Guru Coyote Archmage

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    It's your story, but I think she should ;)

    Anyway, I'd expect Derek to take up the "sisters share everything" idea and comment on how Carla and her 'sister' seem to be an exception to this rule - what with her having gone off to New York and no more contact etc.

    Anyway, what you outline does very much give this paragraph a reason to be in the story.
     
  10. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

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    There's a difference between a really fun line and a really fun line that fits, that contributes to the flow of things. I think the connection of an imaginary sister who didn't stay in touch with the POV's character's friend who now has an insight about the nonexistent sister of the woman Derek doesn't get to date... it's a bit thin. :)

    Or maybe it isn't. Pure whimsy can be fun, and the real question might be how often your style makes comments like this that don't go anywhere, and so how much this one sticks out. (After all, the vote was 4-2 in favor, and it as a tangent it's a very short one.) Or like Coyote says, you can make it fit... but ask yourself how much that reshaping will change the tale..

    Then again, lines that you realize don't fit can be some of the best of all, because if you "kill your darling" you can resurrect it as the start of your next story. Win/ Mega-win.
     
  11. Guru Coyote

    Guru Coyote Archmage

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    OMG, was it actually that compacted? I assumed the conection of this paragraph to the POV char(s) was much more direct. My head hurts now :)
     
  12. risu

    risu Troubadour

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    Unfortunately, in this case, killing it will just leave it dead. There is no resurrecting this particular detail.

    It may be an issue of flow, which may be why some of the plot-driven writers suggest cutting it. It seems like those who just do a lot of reading, albeit they are critical of what they read (and usually provide the most constructive feedback, I've found), are the ones who love it most. Here is the larger passage:


    His gaze flitted back to Samantha for a quick moment and he shrugged as if he didn't care. "Does she have a sister? I'd go for that."

    "Two brothers, one in the Army and the other owns a gun shop."

    The chattering girlfriends snagged a pair of drinks from the counter window. Scrawled text on the side of the cups said wallet girl had a soy chai latte and her companion had a cappuccino. He didn't find either one appealing.

    "Even if she had a sister," Carla continued, "I wouldn't let you date her. Sisters share everything."

    This from an only child.

    Carla used to have an imaginary sister, but had outgrown the pretend Jasmine before Derek moved in with her family. Jasmine had been swept away by a dragon and rescued by a handsome prince. The two lived happily ever after somewhere in New York now.

    "I guess that makes best friends off-limits too?" he asked, grinning.

    His cousin shot him a murderous glare.
     
  13. Guru Coyote

    Guru Coyote Archmage

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    seems to flow for me.

    But now I wonder. This is from Derek's POV, right? How does he know of this imaginary sister, when she left before the came into the family? Was the told?
     
  14. risu

    risu Troubadour

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    Yeah, he and his cousin became like siblings after he was orphaned at age 12. It's one of those teasing points within the family that isn't explicitly said in the text, like an inside family joke.
     
  15. Guru Coyote

    Guru Coyote Archmage

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    Ah, ok, so both of the sides in the conversation know of this detail... hmmm... One way you could try and improve the integration of this 'backstory' into the narrative (improve flow) might be to weave it right into the conversation:
    maybe have Derek say something like "Yeah, like you and your sister Jasmine."
    Use that teasing thing to weave in the backstory.
     
  16. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    Yeah... I agree with Guru. For me as I read that section, the paragraph in question felt like it fit there in spirit, but wasn't quite working with the flow of things. Again, I second that integrating into the actual conversation would make it work better.
     
  17. Addison

    Addison Auror

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    Parts like that, with Carla and Jasmine, can either be a sub-plot or part of the character arc.

    But look at it this way, without plot, there's no story. Without a story, there's no plot. They fuel each other.

    An example for this type of thing is Harry and Cho. There wasn't a need for him to have a crush on her. No need for them to kiss or for him to tell Hermione and everything else that happened. It didn't drive the plot in anyway. But we liked it, we read it, and we saw how much Harry had grown.
     
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