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Understanding Plot and Story

In: Film and Music

Submitted By aceevanss
Words 542
Pages 3

There is a lot of information available on plot and story, but most of it will only confuse the basic understanding of these terms we are trying to achieve. A lot of this information is useful as we start to think about film in greater depth, but in this course I simply want you to begin by learning these two definitions.
PLOT: The “plot” of a film is what you see in the order that you see it. It is the sequence of events (occurrences, character actions, decisions, etc.) as it unfolds onscreen. The plot is the way a film tells its story, and the final shape a plot will take is completely up to the filmmaker, who decides what event will follow what event during editing. Plot does not need to be chronological, meaning it does not need to unfold in the same manner as the story it tells.
STORY: The “story” is the full story told by a film in its precise chronological order. This means, importantly, that the story can include events we do not see on the screen, or that we only here characters make mention of. However, no matter what events the story does include, it necessarily occurs in proper chronological sequence, just like in the real worlds, where we have to experience events as they unfold, and where we cannot jump around in time focusing on that which we want to.
Both “plot” and “story” are part of the narrative of a film. Remember, our basic definition of narrative is a sequence of events occurring in space and time. The story is the full sequence of that narrative, as it would occur in the real world, that is, chronologically. The plot is the events of that narrative that a filmmaker chooses to show us, in the order he or she shows them to us.
Consider this:
A possible story:
1) The king, fearing his queen is a better leader than he, decides to poison her; 2) he poisons her; 3) the queen is found dead; 4) seeking the murderer, the royal court calls for an investigation; 5) the investigation reveals that the king is the murderer; 6) when confronted, he confesses. A possible film plot for that that same story:
1) The queen is found dead; 2) seeking the murderer, the royal court calls for an investigation;
3) the investigation reveals that the king is the murderer; 4) when confronted, he confesses; 5) his confession reveals that he plotted to kill the queen because he feared she was a better leader.
Note the difference in the first event. Chronologically, the king has to plot to murder the queen and murder her before she is found dead. However, to preserve the mystery, a filmmaker may decide to begin only once the queen is found dead, presenting the story differently for dramatic effect. This last point is ultimately why we care about the distinction between plot and story in filmmaking; understanding these two terms helps us understand how a filmmaker has chosen to tell their story, and what kinds of effects (i.e., preserving the mystery in my example) that telling has on our experience when watching a film.

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