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Plot and types of plots.

 PLOT: Plot concerns the organization of the main events of a work of fiction. Plot differs from story in that plot is concerned with how events are related, how they are structured and how they enact change in the major characters. Most plots will trace some process of change in which characters are caught up in a conflict that is eventually resolved. Plots may be fully integrated or “tightly knit,” or episodic in nature.

According to Aristotle’s Poetics, a plot in literature is “the arrangement of incidents” that (ideally) each follow plausibly from the other. The plot is like the chalk outline that guides the painter’s brush. An example of the type of plot which follows these sorts of lines is the linear plot of development to be discerned within the pages of a bildungsroman novel.

The concept of plot and the associated concept of construction of plot, emplotment, has of course developed considerably since Aristotle made these insightful observations. The episodic narrative tradition which Aristotle indicates has systematically been subverted over the intervening years, to the extent that the concept of beginning, middle, end are merely regarded as a conventional device when no other is to hand.

It is important to note here that Aristotle never differentiated between ‘plot’ and ‘story’. Edward Morgan Forster in his Aspects of the Novel draws a distinction between the two and defines story as a “narrative of events arranged in their time-sequence” while a “plot is also a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality.” The important word in describing plot is, thus, ‘causality’. For example, “the king died, and then the Queen died” is sequence of a story while “The King died, the Queen died of grief too” is a plot. 

The second assertion has established a link of cause between the two events. And this, the making of connections, or designs, is the essence of storytelling.

Types of Plots

There may be many ways to order/sequence/arrange a plot which gives rise to different types of plots. According to Hudson, a plot may be loose where the story is composed of a number of detached incidents with very little necessary or logical connection among themselves. For example, Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe or W. M. Thackeray’s Vanity Fair has loose plot.

The second type of plot is an organic plot where separate incidents are knitted together and form and integral component of a definite plot-pattern.

Aristotle distinguished between a simple and complex plot so did Hudson. In a simple plot, only a single story is told and in the complex plot multiple stories go hand in hand. Thus, Thackeray’s Vanity Fair is said to have a simple plot since its stories are not properly amalgamated while Dickens’s the Bleak House has a complex plot as all the three threads of Esther Summerson’s story, the story of Lady Delock’s sin and the story of the great Chancery Suit by Jarndyce V Jarndyce are dexterously linked together.

The American author of The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel hawthorne of the 19th century identifies discusses four types of plots: Tragic, comic, satiric or romantic according to the subject matter or content of the novel but leaves out other types of novels, for example, political, psychological, historical and crime novels.

Thus, typologies of either novels or plots have a limited relevance no one cover all. However, the discussion about the typologies helps us understand the construction of plots varies from one novel to another and finally in understanding a novel. 

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