The following was a brief thread I wrote on twitter.
Here’s a brief thread on the concept of “plot.” Mostly in response to poor discussion about story structure and context.
Classically, a plot is simply “the arrangement of incidences” (Aristotle). Basically, the things that happen.
More complexly, we might draw a distinction between Plot and Story, where story is what the incidents mean.
While a useful distinction in basic formulation of narrative structure, in some sense these two things cannot be easily resolved outside each other.
Plot is inevitably linked to the material conditions of the narrative’s context, giving each incident a time-space anchor.
Person A does thing X because Person A is here at this time, and thing X is present at this time, thus creating consequence y.
The meaning, or story, behind this is usually reserved for thematic analysis but is inevitably confined to the materiality of the plot.
Put simply, Meaning E only exists because Thing X happened, given person A. It’s a system and each part needs every other part.
So typically, in critique, we ask the questions of why Person A did Thing X, given the presence of previous meaning D
Are meanings D and E consistent? Why didn’t A do Y? Does meaning E follow A + X?
I don’t mean to make this sound all formal, its just easy to understand this is a system of deductions.
We like to think of stories logically and logic is what allows for the audience to believe in the reality of the text.
So when we question plot, we inevitably do so in relation to the other substructures of the narrative.
The tricky part is in asking how much weight we give each part. Are plot and story equal? Usually the answer is no.
When writing into a tough situation, we can ask why A didn’t do Y… but the answer is that X is more interesting.
And these are judgment calls, right? To the individual artist and audience, what is the more interesting part?
Batman could drop the Joker down an elevator shaft… or we could say he doesn’t want to and explore what the means.
This doesn’t make perfect writing, it simply makes honest artistic expression, which is usually the goal of artists.
When critiquing, we are open to ask these questions of what else could have happened. However ultimately…
…the more fruitful critique takes the meaning as granted and addresses the implications of that totality of systems.
One plot hole does not undermine a system of structural meaning since an “incident” is only a part of the equation.
In more concrete terms, a loose plot is not the same thing as a bad story but this also goes the other way.
You can only take so much meaning as given before the plot incidents stop forcing any coherent system at all.
In which case, the meanings you derive have a greater distance from the text itself which is dangerous ground.
This is why understanding the medium is so important. Stories are told in totality, not in part. In unity, not in specificity.
A film is more than the script. A comic is more than the dialogue. A song is more than the lyrics. Systems require all their parts.
A complete analysis is one that addresses the tensions of each part, rather than granting charity to only the part.
And if you do get hung up on minor details or groundless ideas, you are also misunderstanding how these things exist.
Namely: as part of a dialectic. Plot and Story are different but co-dependent.