Story vs. Plot

Walter Mosley

Lesson time 09:08 min

Learn the key differences between story and plot and how to create a compelling plot to drive the reader forward.

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Topics include: Plot Is the Structure of Revelation · Using the Story for a Plot Reveal


- Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy goes out with girl's brother. I mean, that's a story. You have three characters. They have potential for growth and for change, and they experience each other. They have conflict-- they're torn apart, they're brought back together. That's a story. There's not a whole bunch of different stories, but how that story occurs, that's the plot. Where did the boy meet the girl? What did the girl think about the boy? Where was the brother? Where was he at the time and what was he thinking? What's going on in boy's life? What's going on in girl's life? All these things we slowly begin to understand, and we understand the tensions and the conflicts between them that cause the changes and the revelations. Story is what happens. Plot when the reason it happens or the reasons that it happens are revealed to the reader. The story is a cloud-like definition of the novel you're going to write. If it's a nice, calm day with no wind, the cloud is going to look the same way. As you write your novel, if the winds kick up a little bit, it may alter quite a bit, and you have to be able to move with that story. But the story alone is not a novel. It's just a story. This happened. That happened. This happened. The end. A story-- you can't have a novel without a story, but a story is not a novel. I think it's easy to start with something simple when you're crafting a story, because I promise you it's going to become extremely complex before you get to the end. You'll start saying all kinds of things about the girl or about the second boy. There's all kinds of stuff that's going to be going on in the story. And so if you could start it as easy as possible, that's good because it leaves a lot of room for complexity, which is going to come in when you start plotting. The story. [MUSIC PLAYING] The simplest way to describe plot is that it is the structure of revelation. I like that term because it works on two levels. One, it's a pedestrian level. Well, when do I find out what the girl's mother is like? When do I find out that her brother is gay? When do I find out that the boy who's been going out with her is only going out with her so he can find a place to sleep, because he needs a place to sleep because it came from Salt Lake City and he doesn't have any money? When do I find out these things? That's very pedestrian thing. But the other reveal that happens is you find out who the person is through why they're there, what they've done, why they've done what they've done. You want to be surprised. You want your assumptions to be a question. You want the novel to tell you something about the world that you didn't know about when you started reading this book. And so as elements and character traits and situations reveal themselves, we become more and more engaged in what is happening and we worry more or more about what will happen. And so that structure, the bones of your novel, make it so the reader is involved ...

About the Instructor

Walter Mosley, bestselling author and recipient of the National Book Award’s Lifetime Achievement Medal, has written more than 60 books over his 30-year career and is celebrated for fiction that addresses our culture’s racial divides. Now he’s sharing the elements of storytelling that have helped him along the way. Learn how to choose the right words, structure, genre, and characters to create the novel that’s in you.

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Walter Mosley

In his MasterClass, Walter Mosley teaches you how to rethink genres and the “rules” of fiction and how to approach writing your own novel.

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