No sir. For starters one begins with an ‘s’ and the other with a ‘p’. Story has five letters and plot has four.
Enough frivolities. Your screenplay is a delicate, finely-tuned literary instrument. Screenwriters must be well aware of these two terms to ensure the integrity of their screenwriting. Although both terms are inextricably linked, each has its own nuance and dramatic function in your film script.
Story is what you are trying to say. Plot is how you say it; its execution. In other words plot is what happens in your film and story is why it happens.
A story is informed by plot, but a plot does not inform the story. Story is the super structure of the dramatic narrative and plot is the micro structure.
What is story?
Let’s start with the concept of a story. In its simplest form it is the spine of the dramatic discourse; a series of inter-dependent and consequential events.
Story is a over-arching term which explores the overall concept of your screenplay with regard to subject, character arc, theme and emotional core. What is your main character exploring and what do they discover about themselves during the course of the story?
Story is less tangible and finite than plot. It is certainly defined by a beginning, middle and end in terms of the overall story scope.
A story conveys the dramatic, thematic and emotional significance of a screenplay. It is the inner journey the main character undertakes. Plot is the outer physical journey.
Think of story as being the body and the plot as being the nervous system.
What is plot?
Plot is the mechanical nature of story. It is the defined as the nuts and bolts (beats or plot points) of your screenplay. It solidifies the structural components of the story. It shapes it and defines the narrative boundaries.
Plot is the specific causal events that illustrate the story you are writing. Plot point A either causes plot point B or plot point B is a consequential decision made by a character after plot point A has occurred. An action-reaction paradigm if you will. Plot should never simply sequential; plot point A occurred followed by plot point B.
In my view, story is more difficult to compose than the plot. If a scriptwriter hasn’t fully defined their story before they start writing, the plot will seem like a series of vignettes.
Plot is also used to manipulate the audience through a variety of devices to invoke emotional responses in your audience. These include tension, suspense, reversals, twists and turns. They directly affect the story dynamics and tone.
Which is more important?
Both of these aspects of your screenplay are equally important. However, screenwriters should focus on the relative ratios of story and plot in their screenwriting. This is generally dependent on the film genre and the mood of a particular scene.
Action, comedy and horror films generally lean more towards plot. Action films rely heavily on thrills and spills and less on character development. The main character wants something and constantly battles obstacles.
Dramas and to a lesser extent thrillers, are more focussed on story and overall themes. Sci-fi movies balance man’s relationship with technology with action.
So now you know!
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