The Single Plot


This post originally appeared on the website on June 28th, 2017 and has been republished here with permission.

There are many theories to how many plots there actually exist. In fact, you'll probably read in many places that there's no longer any "original" stories. If this is true then there are a limited number of plots. There are many different theories. 3 possible plots, 7 possible plots, 36, 20... who's to say any one of these theories is wrong?

In reality, there are as many plots as there are people, isn't there?
If your story were a plot what would it be?
The single plot theory is that there is only one plot. Seems simple right? Well, hold your britches because the theories of "36 possible plots" are more easily defined. The single plot theory is difficult to nail down because every literary person has an opinion on the matter. So what is the single plot that everyone thinks can define all stories? First we have to define plot.
Oxford English Dictionary Online defines 'Plot' as a noun, it's second definition is that which I would like to turn our attention to:

The main events of a play, novel, film, or similar work, devised and presented by the writer as an interrelated sequence

   example given: ‘the plot consists almost entirely of a man and woman falling in love’
   [with modifier] ‘he outlined his idea for a movie plot’
With this we notice that the main information Oxford presents is that it is the "Main Events" of the work and it is an interrelated sequence. Therefore, whether we go forwards or we are moving backwards through time, there is little there that cannot be 'plot.'
So what do others say is the only plot possible?

Rick Altman would have us believe that there is only one plot: narrative; but this plot can be told from two different perspectives... so it is really only one plot? The single plot theory is treated broadly as the "plot" to which any story holds or the singular "narrative" that all stories hold and is chatted about by literary scholars as a singular device. If this is true, that plot is a singular device, then would it not be true that there's truly only one plot and Mr. Altman says it is narrative as told in singular focus or dual-focus modes (as presented by one or more narrator).
This theory is interesting because I'd never really considered that the plot itself would be considered a different beast if the narrator  or narrative device being used was significantly different between texts, it was to me, not necessarily separate but less relevant.
I disagree with Altman. I think that the narrative is not the plot, they are wholly separate. The narrative is how the plot is expressed but it is not the plot itself. I may agree that narrative may have multiple perspectives but I disagree and say that they do not affect the plot, rather-the plot affects them. Narrative requires a plot but a plot doesn't require a specific narrative.
     So what is the singular uniform plot Amanda that you have been dragging on for ages here?
The singular plot, in my mind, is conflict.
     Whoa, that's a broad category of plot Amanda!
Let's look at Conflict the noun:

1  A serious disagreement or argument, typically a protracted one.

example given: ‘the eternal conflict between the sexes’
[mass noun] ‘doctors often come into conflict with politicians’
  1. 1.1 A prolonged armed struggle.
    example given: ‘regional conflicts’
  • 1.2 [mass noun] A state of mind in which a person experiences a clash of opposing feelings or needs.
    example given: ‘bewildered by her own inner conflict, she could only stand there feeling vulnerable’
  • 1.3 A serious incompatibility between two or more opinions, principles, or interests.
    example given: ‘there was a conflict between his business and domestic life’
So you can see from these definitions that conflict includes the internal conflict within the character but also the external conflict whether violent or not but an external or internal disagreement or argument. But the key here is "usually a protracted one."
This is clever. A protracted argument or disagreement usually means it's dragged out over a period of time. What that time is, the definition doesn't suggest, but let's look up "protracted" to be certain it doesn't in fact include a specific timeline to our single plot.
When I look it up it says protracted is an adjective which means "Lasting for a long time or longer than expected or usual," which is easy to say because any conflict is not expected usually...wouldn't you agree?
Conflict, however vague the concept is in fact the only legitimate answer. What each of the consecutive plot ideas/lists shares is that each of them involve character(s) that become embroiled or caught up, in conflict. Some survive, some thrive, some don't. The outcome isn't the focus of the plot theory however, only the idea of what the character faces, and that's conflict.

If you disagree or want to point me to some other theories, please let me know in the comments below!
This post originally appeared on the website on June 28th, 2017 and has been republished here with permission.

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