Story vs. Plot

Anna Elliott at the blog Writer Unboxed has a great article today on plot vs. story. Hop on over and give it a read. It’s got some fabulous tips for creating better plots and more moving stories. I’d like to talk a bit about what she wrote and expand on it a little. 

She identifies both terms: “Plot takes our characters on a wild, exciting ride. Story makes our readers feel as though they’re on that ride themselves.” 

I love those definitions. Plot is all the things your character does, how he does them, when he does them, and who he does them with. Story is all about the character himself, the conflict he faces, the emotions he goes through, the changes that occur within him because of the things he does (plot). 

Randy Ingermanson, in his book Writing Fiction for Dummies identifies five pillars of fiction: Setting, Character, Plot, Theme, and Style. Combined, you have a story. Plot is just one of the pieces of story. When all five pieces are fitted together properly, they provide the reader with a powerful emotional experience (Randy’s phrase there). 

I’ve read in countless books that there are two kinds of writers in the world: those who create a structure first, and those who just fling themselves into their writing without bothering to know what’s coming up. Those two groups are lovingly referred to as Plotters and Pantsers (that’d be the shorter version of “flying-by-the-seat-of-their-pants”). I’m definitely a plotter. I need to have a full outline of my story before I even begin writing. I need to know how the story ends, when the major conflicts will pop up, who all my major characters are (including their goals and weaknesses–not just the protagonist, but ALL the major characters). I even create an images file, where I put photos of people that look like my characters. To me, writing without knowing where I’m going is absolutely impossible, and I don’t understand Pantsers at all.

Maybe some of you who are Pantsers could fill me in. How do you create a story without knowing your plot in advance?

-Sonja
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