Monday, December 13, 2010

Logical Plotting, Part One: Structure

While studying for finals this week I ran across this list in my logic notes:

Simple Plot
Linked Plot
Convergent Plot
Divergent Plot
Serial Plot
Unstated Plot

I probably don’t need to clarify that my logic professor wasn’t talking about plot structure when I jotted that down but, well she wasn’t. she was talking about argument structures. Still there are a lot of similarities between arguments and plots.

Definition of argument: A set of two or more statements, one of which follows from the other.

Definition of story: A narrative that follows a course of events (implying that one must follow from the other)

Mainly, arguments and plots both must have a conclusion. Even if it is vague or ambiguous a conclusion is what separates a story from a series of events whether they are real or imaginary. However, since using that terminology, almost all well written stories would have unstated plots and since the conclusion is capsulated in the climax, for our diagramming purposes we will substitute ‘climax’ for ‘claim’ and ‘event’ for ‘premise’.

Simple Plot

A single event leads to the climax.

This mostly applies to short stories.
The fox asks the crow to sing (event) and the cheese falls out of the crow’s mouth (climax).

But it could apply to a longer story as well.

Saroun creates the one ring (event) so Frodo destroys it (climax).
The stories aren’t always told in the order they are diagramed.

Linked Plot

Two or more related events lead to the climax.

This is a very common plot structure for novels and, for me at least, is the most impressive because the climax hits and suddenly everything else fits together.

Takeo is being trained by Otori (event). Kaede is being forced to marry Otori (event). Lord Ida Sadamu tyrannizes the land (event). Takeo uses the skills he has been training for and Kaede does not marry Otori, thus overthrowing Lord Ida. (climax)

Convergent Plot

Two or more events lead to the climax but don’t depend on one another.

Mrs. Hubbard stabs Ratchet (event). Mary Debenham stabs Ratchet (event.) Colonal Arbuthnot stabs Ratchet (event). Ratchet is killed (climax).

Most mysteries contain events that only appear to contribute to the climax


One event leads to two or more climaxes

Common in disaster stories

The titanic sinks (event). Jack dies (climax). The captain goes down with his ship (climax).

Serial Plot

An event leads to a climax which in turn leads to another climax

Most evident in well crafted series of books

Cabarus is unrightfully ruler of Westmark (event). Theo overthrows Cabarus but saves his life (climax and event). Cabarus stirs an invasion in Westmark.

Because of the continuous movement this can be confused with a “page turner” pace in which nothing is ever quite resolved but doesn’t always build on itself.

Unstated Plot

The climax is implied but the reader never sees it happen

Boy sees girl and smiles (event). Girls sees boy and smiles (event). The reader guesses that boy and girl will get together even though there is no dialogue or action to indicate that

This is what is meant by showing instead of telling. The writer leaves the important things unsaid for emphasis.

Of course most stories are a much more complex combination of these types of plot but, for someone who usually runs away from anything remotely resembling structure, it makes sense for me to think of plot in this way.


  1. This is cool. Thanks for the breakdown. =D

  2. This is brilliant. I have so much to learn yet, when it comes to plotting. Thanks!

  3. Oh my word. My head hurts from thinking so hard. I mean, I like it, but yeah. Great post!

  4. I really love this schematic of different kinds of plots. As Lydia K said, it's brilliant. (Obviously, if you are studying logic, you must be brilliant, so this is perhaps not surprising.)

    The only thing I don't agree with is the final one where you say an unstated plot is the same as "show, don't tell." I think SDT refers to something completely different, at the sentence level of the story, not how the plot reaches the climax. For instance, in the example you gave, if the next sentence described the man going down on his knee and asking, her "Will you marry me?" this would still be Showing. Telling would be, "And Jeremy loved Yolanda so much he proposed to her that night." (Which, btw, is perfectly fine at times -- sometimes it is in fact better to Tell, Don't Show.) But that has nothing to do with whether their marriage is merely implied or actually shown/stated at the end of the book.

  5. You may be right Tara. The most frusterating things for me about the "show don't tell" mantra is that everyone means something slightly different when they advise that you apply it.

  6. Agreed. It's like the old saw about "don't use passive voice." You have to be really careful about that because a lot of people who say that actually have no clue what passive voice is, and the examples they give are flat wrong.