Theory of Nothing? A Review of The Theory of Everything
January 7, 2015
Plot vs. Story
July 29, 2014
Show, Don't Tell - Goal Setting Edition
June 27, 2018
Plot vs. Story
Drama is anticipation mingled with uncertainty. -- William Archer
I recently read a script that had a clear plot, but I felt very strongly that thestory was missing. It didn't have a story!
I struggled to explain what I thought a story was. It sounds like a simple thing, but I babbled on and on about elements of theme and character. They rebutted that their script hit all the structural beats, so it was a story. Clearly, I had to fine-tune my argument.
So after some consideration, here is my simplified explanation of the difference between plot and story: A plot is the series of events which the character experiences. A story is how and why a character changes.
Plot is important because it sets our expectations. Plots help define genres or sub-genres. The best play with our expectations -- and boy how we love to be surprised by a unique twist. However, by their very nature all plots have twists of one degree or another. Frankly, audiences have come to expect the unexpected.
A great movie will never be remembered as a series of actions, no matter how unique or unexpected. What will be most memorable is how and why characters made their choices, and how they changed in the process. It will be the story that resonates.
Bottom line, as Andrew Stanton famously said, “Make me care.”
On the other hand, there’s only so much personal angst that we can take from a super hero. Bond better drive the impossibly cool car, bed the impossibly beautiful girl, knock off a few baddies while sipping a shaken martini, not react to winning the long shot at a casino, not react to nearly dying, and ultimately out-think a super-villain to save the world in a freshly pressed tux, but not necessarily in that order. I do miss the wise-cracking.
Patrick Ewald from Epic Pictures says the biggest mistake in a pitch meeting is to pitch the plot. He suggests that you first pitch the back story. Pitch the reason for the story to exist. And then the story will unfold naturally like a flower. Fantastic advice!
Sympathy and empathy are what turn a plot into a story. It is the sympathy for the characters in Moby Dick, for instance, that get us through what might otherwise be called a text book, an entertaining one at that. Our culture tends to think of sympathy as agreement or validation. That's not right for the writer. Sympathy is simply understanding. The reader shouldn't have to agree with the character or their motives, but they should absolutely understand them.