story vs. plot, once again

So I’ve been thinking about novels and films that worked for me, personally, and comparing in each case story to plot. If you were hanging around a week ago or so you’ll remember that I defined story as what happened, in order and plot as the artful rearrangement of what happened.

Mysteries, by definition, can’t just give you the story, but depend on arranging the elements into a particular kind of plot. Most genre fiction depends very much on plot. You may know, in a classic western, that the good guys will somehow or another prevail; what you don’t know is, how. The artful revelation of the story is the thing. The same is true of romance. The same is true, on a different scale, for joke telling. People who can tell a joke have a talent for knowing when and how to let the punch line go. Good storytellers are often good at telling jokes.

So now I’m trying to think of a novel that had a flawed story but an excellent plot, or t’other way around.

Let me know if you have any such examples.Today I’m on my way to Gig Harbor, Washington to teach a creative writing workshop, but I should be back later tomorrow and will certainly post something by the end of the weekend.

3 Replies to “story vs. plot, once again”

  1. On flawed stories with good plots, and vice versa:

    I’ve followed a discussion on Uncle Jim’s thread (which I think you recommended way back), and we’ve covered this very topic recently. I would argue that the film Sixth Sense has a good story with an intrinsically flawed plot, i.e. the plot only works first time around, but when you watch it again there are illogical gaps. The Usual Suspects, on the other hand, is a good example of a similar kind of story with a plot that works very well, even though the plot twist is similar to that of, say, Through the Looking Glass, by Carrol. Any thoughts?

  2. in haste (and I’ll think about this more): The Usual Suspects uses a Plot Cheat right toward the end, so in my book at least, I can’t admire it. If you watch it again, you’ll see there’s a sneaky, unestablished POV switch on the boat. As far as The Sixth Sense is concerned: I’d be interested to know about these illogical gaps, because I can’t find them.

  3. Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” springs to mind as an example of a plot overcoming a flawed story – though I’d qualify it by saying that the story was perhaps intentionally flawed. Another example would be Camu’s “The Outsider” – the story is not wonderful, but the plot is excellent.

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