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Creative Nonfiction: Researching and Crafting Stories of Real Life, revised edition, by Philip Gerard (Waveland Press, 2004)


The sequence of incidents or events in a narrative.

See theme for a discussion of the differences between plot and theme.

See also:


From the Old English, "plot"

Examples and Observations:

  • "Here's the plot: in our Holland box at the Post Office you'll find an envelope addressed in my scribble. There's a Pickwick Stage parcel-room check in it--for the bundle we got yesterday. Will you get the bundle and bring it to me--p.d.q.?"
    (Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon, 1930)

  • "Essentially and most simply put, plot is what the characters do to deal with the situation they are in. It is a logical sequence of events that grow from an initial incident that alters the status quo of the characters."
    (Elizabeth George, Write Away: One Novelist's Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life. HarperCollins, 2004)

  • Plot in Nonfiction
    "Plot is more than a series of events: This happened and then that happened, and then something else happened. In storyteller's terms, plot is a series of events related causally: This happened because that other thing happened. Things were going along fine (equilibrium) till something happened to disturb the equilibrium (dramatic problem), one thing led to another, escalating the tension (rising curve of action), culminating in a dramatic confrontation (climax), and resolving things back to some new equilibrium (denouement).

    "We had ourselves a nice quiet island here, then some joker decided to build a high-rise bridge, and all hell broke loose. . . .

    "[N]ot all nonfiction pieces have plot. A profile, for instance, is more likely to resemble a character sketch than a plotted story. The same goes for an interview. But all good nonfiction contains conflict--an opposition of forces that lends tension to the account."
    (Philip Gerard, Creative Nonfiction: Researching and Crafting Stories of Real Life. Story Press, 1996)

  • Our Era of Suspicion Toward Plot
    "We still live today in the age of narrative plots, consuming avidly Harlequin romances and television serials and daily comic strips, creating and demanding narrative in the presentation of persons and news events and sports contests. And yet, we know that with the advent of Modernism came an era of suspicion toward plot, engendered perhaps by an overelaboration of and overdependence on plots in the nineteenth century. If we cannot do without plots, we nonetheless feel uneasy about them, and feel obliged to show up their arbitrariness, to parody their mechanisms while admitting our dependence on them."
    (Peter Brooks, Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative. Harvard Univ. Press, 1992)
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