"A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings but a cat does not." -Ernest Hemingway

Monday, May 16, 2011

Plot vs. Story: The Defining Difference and How To Find Balance

A long time ago, I read a statistic which stated four out of five professional writers agree on the difference between plot and story, but not one in a hundred could define it!  How about you, can you define the difference?

Have you ever read a book that at the time felt like you were eating your favorite junk food snack?  In other words, it was satisfying at the time, but an hour later you were hungry for something with real substance.  Often times the answer as to why this happens can be found in an author failing to balance between plot and story.  

Let’s explore:

A novel without plot can quickly become boring and a novel without story can leave you feeling emotionally unattached.  So what’s the difference?  Simply put, plot is physical and story is emotional.  Knowing how to find balance between the two is a key factor for any author who wants to keep their readers engaged throughout and leave them with a sense of caring.  How about you, have you ever read a book in which you quickly became bored and put it down or one in which you felt you could care a less about what happened to the main character?

So then, how do you find balance between the two?  First, and foremost, it’s important to know and understand the emotional (story) side because it ultimately drives the physical (the plot) side.  So when you begin to develop your story, think in terms of emotions first, in other words, what your characters are feeling, what they’re thinking and what they are struggling with.  Secondly, think in terms of action, how can you show your character’s feelings, what kind of dialogue, or better yet what kind of action, will reveal what they’re thinking or struggling with? Knowing this first hand will better equip you when writing out your scenes. 

For some of my fellow authors who may be thinking this is too structural for them because they write “off the cuff” then tune in to next week’s adventure for we will be exploring how scenes themselves have their own internal structure.  It helped to change the way I write forever (with or without an outline) and it is my hope it will help you too!

Until then,

Keep on thriving, keep on striving and keep on writing!

T.K. Millin
The Unknown Author         


  1. Hi

    I'd say plot is what happens. It becomes a story when the reader starts wondering why.

    Moody Writing

  2. Hello Moody Writing,

    Thank you for your comment, and yes plot is what happens and hopefully your readers wonder what is happening so they keep on reading!

    Glad to have you visit!

  3. You are certainly right when you say there needs to be balance between story and plot. If a story is non-stop action all the way, there is no where to go after a while. The zenith has been reached. Plot keeps the story rolling along, giving it purpose.

    The physical and the emotional. How perfectly stated! Great post!

  4. Thank you Blaze for stopping by! It's always good to hear your take on my post. :)