Tuesday, February 2, 2010

How to Write Papers and Essays - Plot

One of the most basic components of a story is its plot. A story with a bad plot is...well, really boring. A plot can make or break a story, so it is a really good thing to look at when doing a literary analysis.


The plot of a work is it's basic storyline, what the story is about, the reason why the events in the story happen. Say you are analyzing Romeo and Juliet. What is the plot? In a nutshell, boy and girl meet, fall in love, are forbidden to see each other because of family rivalries, and commit suicide because of a horrible misunderstanding. Now, if the story was just "boy commits suicide, girl commits suicide," there is no real plot. Who cares? But if you have a Why, a reason behind what goes on, a story that builds to that conclusion, then you have a plot.

So what are some things you can question or discuss?

  • Does this plot work?
    • Would it have been better if R and J were killed by the rival family instead of killing themselves? Would the story have worked better if they didn't kill themselves at all but instead ran off and lived happily ever after? What elements of the story work well and which don't?
  • What are the main elements or events of the plot? 
    • The background info or exposition (the info you need to understand what's going on)
      • Is this element present? Should there be more or less? In Romeo and Juliet, if the plot didn't contain the information that their families were bitter rivals, we never would have understood why they couldn't be together
    • The complication that leads to the main conflict and the main conflict
      • Is this present? Should there be more or less or more explanation? What is the spark that lights the fire on the main conflict in the book? Does it make sense? Does it work? Would the events that unfolded in Romeo and Juliet have worked better if Romeo hadn't killed her cousin? If their families hadn't been locked in a bitter rivalry that resulted in the deaths of their friends and family members?
    • The climax
      • What is it? Does it work? Is there sufficient build up to it to make the climax, well, climactic? Would something else have worked better? Do you agree with the widely accepted climax or do you think the climax occurs elsewhere in the story? Why or why not?
    • The resolution
      • How does the story end? Does this ending work? Does it resolve everything that has been built up in the story? If not, why do you think this is? Is there a sequel that is being set up? Do you think another resolution would have worked better? Why or why not?
  • What is the main theme or point of the story? Does the plot work well to develop that theme? 
    • If the point of the story is to show how stupid feuds are, does the plot serve this theme well? 
    • If the point of the story is to illustrate how children should obey their parents and the horrible things that can happen if they don't, does the plot further that theme?
  • Are there things the author could have done to develop the plot better? What and why?
    • Are there elements or events that would have developed the story better if they had been presented earlier in the plot, or later, or left out altogether?
      • For instance, in a mystery, does it work better knowing who the murderer is right up front? No. This element of the plot works much better left at the end of the story.

Which brings us to another point - the plot is a great element to analyze in conjunction with other aspects of the story. Characters, setting, point of view, themes...all these things are what make a plot what it is. So when analyzing the plot, it is a great idea to take a look at these elements as well and analyze whether or not they are working for the plot.