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Plots and Emplotment.

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Presentation on theme: "Plots and Emplotment."— Presentation transcript:

1 Plots and Emplotment

2 Story and plot Story—the events and actions occurring over time, relating to characters Plot—the actions, events, effects as presented within the narrative may be out of sequence, may not include important parts of the story, etc.

3 Plots and emplotment Plots are the sets of events presented within the narrative that drive the story forward Events may be actions taken by characters or may be ‘natural’ events that occur within the story world that affect the characters (storm, volcano, economic crash) Events are linked, usually in a causal chain “One thing leads to another”

4 Plot structure Plots range from very simple to extremely complex (“imbroglio”) Many narratives have a number of subplots tied to the overall main or superordinate plot Conclusion of a subplot will often move the character(s) forward in the overarching main plot

5 You can think of characters traveling a road from a beginning to some end
Some source of disturbance sets the characters on their journey The journey occurs over time and in some context Things that happen early determine those that happen later There are complications along the way that usually become more demanding as characters approach their goal A major conflict occurs, is resolved and events flow toward resolution of the original disturbance

6 Events Kernels and Satellites (Porter, Larson, Harthcock & Nellis)
Kernels (Hubs): Major events or branching points in the plot structure that force characters to choose between or among alternate paths Satellites: Minor plot events that add texture and complexity to characters and elements but are not essential elements Examples of order of plot: OUATITW and Memento among others. Imagine Memento being told chronologically? Also mention Once Upon a Time in America (editor of Police Academy arranging it chronologically) Ask, so what are the hubs and satellites?

7 Events Events may be actions taken by characters or may be ‘natural’ events that occur within the story world that affect the characters (storm, volcano, economic crash) The events are portrayed as causal—one thing leads to another The plot may not present these events chronologically Flashbacks and flashforwards

8 Conflict Plots are driven by conflict Protagonist v. antagonist
Harry Potter Humans against nature Jurassic Park Humans fighting themselves (internal demons) Dexter Humans against the supernatural Supernatural And so on

9 Motive Conflict is based on the motive of the protagonist
Seeking something Often generated through actions of the antagonist or by changes in circumstance Sharpest conflict is generated by incompatible motives among main characters Antagonist has a motive that directly opposes that of the protagonist Multiple protagonists with incompatible motives It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World

10 Causal chain Many real-life events cannot be explained as the consequence of some earlier action (occur by chance, fortune), but in narrative most events are clearly linked to earlier events or actions “If it had not been for X, Y wouldn’t have happened”

11 Aristotle’s Elements of Plot
Reversals Discoveries Complications Catastrophe Resolution

12 Variation by medium Film Television
The plot unfolds in a rather gradual, upward spiral with varying amounts of ups and downs depending on the particular story Comes to a close at the end of the movie Television The plot unfolds in pulses with highpoints immediately preceding commercials and minor conclusions to each pulse following the break The end of the episode may not lead to a conclusion of the plot or may only answer a single subplot The Amazing Race

13 The individual episode
TV Narrative is open-ended. Many episodes are used to tell a story. These stories unfold in a “story world,” a setting or situation in which the characters live. The Story World of the Series (Plot A) 1 3 4 2 The individual episode Each episode has its own storyline. This is often called Plot B. In some instances there are multiple plots (B, C, D) in each episode—Friends, Seinfeld, for example. The Story World establishes a context in which weekly or daily episodes unfold. The overall plot of the series moves slowly. This is considered Plot A.

14 Stories are also tied together by “dangling causes.”
Dangling causes are based on our understanding of cause/effect relationships. We know that an event (a cause) will result in some effect. In television we often see a cause but the effect is withheld and we will not know the result until a future episode.

15 Dangling Causes The Story World
1 2 Causes lead to effects that become causes for other effects. BUT these cause / effect relationships may stretch across episodes or even seasons! Causes which do not result in an immediate effect are called dangling causes. Dangling causes are used to sustain viewer/reader interest and to create tension.

16 Genre The standard plots of various genres are well-known
When working within a genre, deviating too significantly from the classic plot will often lead to dissatisfaction among the dedicated audience However, too strict an adherence to the traditional plot for a given genre leads to audience disinterest Some amount of creativity is appreciated

17 Detective story Client comes to detective, asks for help
Detective takes case, is opposed by antagonist/criminal Detective investigates, meets and overcomes obstacles, solves crime Antagonist is killed/goes to jail If client was female, may end up with detective Gender reversal is rare

18 A good plot Is based on significant conflict

19 A good plot Holds together—it doesn’t seem implausible
No major ‘plot holes’ What is acceptable depends upon the genre In a fantasy, you can present actions and events that are consistent with the plot that would be inappropriate to other genres Stardust

20 Plot holes “A plot hole, or plothole, is a gap or inconsistency in a storyline that goes against the flow of logic established by the story's plot, or constitutes a blatant omission of relevant information regarding the plot. These include such things as unlikely behaviour or actions of characters, illogical or impossible events, events happening for no apparent reason, or statements/events that contradict earlier events in the storyline.” Wikipedia

21 Plot holes are identified by dedicated fans and published online

22 A good plot Draws upon feelings/experiences the audience members bring to the text Chariots of Fire

23 A good plot Is consistent with the characterization
In TV series, for example, the characters have established a personality that the audience understands and expects to be consistent Acting out of character could be considered a form of implausibility

24 A good plot Alternates action and rest/thought, etc.
Though the general trend is toward more intense action and quickened pacing, the inclusion of subplots, minor conflicts, etc. keep the audience interested as the story progresses

25 A good plot Does not answer the ‘enigma’ too quickly
The audience member should not be certain of how things are going to turn out until after the climax While some narratives begin with the conclusion, there is still some question as to how things led to that particular outcome American Beauty

26 A good plot Is neither so simple that audience members know what will happen far in advance nor so complicated that the audience cannot follow the logic Audience members should be able to make plausible predictions for most, but not all, events/actions/effects

27 Audience reactions that enhance enjoyment
Suspense Effects of an action/event must not be revealed too quickly Surprise Audience members must not be able to predict all events and their outcomes Plot twists

28 A good plot Leads to an appropriate conclusion
Most endings are “happy” Unhappy endings usually come from behavior that is immoral or stupid Hero’s ‘tragic flaw’

29 Zillman’s model

30 Master Plots Well-known skeleton stories that can serve as the basic plot for a wide range of characters and circumstances “Cinderella story”

31 Master plots (Tobias’s list)
Quest Adventure Pursuit Rescue Escape The Riddle Rivalry Underdog Temptation Metamorphosis Transformation Maturation Love Forbidden Love Sacrifice Discovery Wretched Excess Vengeance Ascension Descension

32 Plot Devices “A plot device is an element introduced into a story solely to advance or resolve the plot of the story.” Wikipedia Skill in use is crucial to audience reaction to plot devices

33 Instrument to make the implausible plausible

34 Plot devices A MacGuffin is an object (or character) which drives the actions of the characters, but whose actual nature is not important to the story; another object would work just as well, if the characters treated it with the same importance. Hitchcock said that “in a thriller the MacGuffin is usually ‘the necklace’; in a spy story it is ‘the papers’”. MacGuffins are frequently found in ‘quest’ fantasy stories; video games

35 The Statue in The Maltese Falcon

36 Nick Lowe’s list of plot devices
Collect-the-Coupons plotting. Because having a small group of protagonists overcome an army of villains would be too implausible, “what you do instead is write into the scenario one or more Plot Coupons which happen to be "supernaturally" linked to the outcome of the larger action; and then all your character have to do is save up the tokens till it's time to cash them in.”

37 Dragonballs

38 Plot voucher (Nick Lowe)
The object, typically given to the protagonist shortly before, that allows them to escape from a situation that would be otherwise impossible. The protagonist needs to “save the voucher and cash it in at the appropriate time.” Most of the devices given to James Bond by Q could fall into this category.


40 Other plot devices are simply one-offs to get the protagonist to the next scene of the story. The enemy spy, who suddenly appears, defects, reveals the location of the secret headquarters and is never heard of again, would be an extreme example.

41 Many video games rely heavily on plot devices; games often require characters to perform arbitrary tasks in order to ‘win’ the game.

42 Universal Plot Generator
A Plot Generator is a device written into your scenario that will create further stories as often as required, while laying no restrictions whatever on the kind of story produced. Red Kryptonite The Time Tunnel Stargate



45 Deathtrap An overly complicated method of killing a character, used solely to provide a means of escape James Bond Superheros Batman (TV show)


47 Deus ex machina The phrase has been extended to refer to any resolution to a story that does not pay due regard to the story's internal logic and is so unlikely that it challenges suspension of disbelief, allowing the author to conclude the story with an unlikely, though more palatable, ending. Turns out to be a dream

48 A related and common example is the tendency for the cops, etc
A related and common example is the tendency for the cops, etc. to arrive just in the nick of time to save a victim being tortured and about to be killed

49 Life of Brian Cavalry arrives

50 Quest A complicated search for capture or return of some object or person Hero myth

51 Quibble Following the exact terms of an agreement to escape what would normally be expected Legal bargains Agreements in fantasy stories Pacts with the devil Clever and unusual quibbles startle and please readers, but clumsily contrived ones can seem artificial ways to escape a fictional problem.



54 Red Herring John Paul McCarty Musings and Mutterings


56 IGN Playstation Team’s “Top 10 Overused Plot Devices”
Secret organizations plotting conspiracies, possibly relating to world domination Uncovering long lost remnant of something Fulfilling a prophecy Killing the aliens Unlocking one’s hidden true powers, a.k.a. the chosen one Accidentally unleashing a terrible evil Must seek revenge World War II Main character with amnesia World ending

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