Plot vs. Story

Yesterday was the last day of school for my kids. Yippee! Hooray! Time to do a happy dance. My kids skipped through the door and tossed their backpacks. They did the happy dance. Okay maybe they didn’t skip, and maybe they didn’t do the happy dance either, but they did toss their backpacks. They are teenagers after all. I could see the excitement on their faces though. And that’s a look I treasure because I remember that feeling… the feeling of anticipation for summer vacation.:)

Every year on this day though, I wonder if I’m the most excited person in the house. I’m the one who actually does the happy dance. I’ve watched my children complete another school year. I feel a sense of pride at their accomplishment. I love the feeling of freedom the last day brings. I love the idea of a lighter schedule with the endless days of sunshine, swimming, bike rides, and ice cream.

But still, I feel a little melancholy…

School is a journey for all kids. They begin a new school year with a certain number of academic skills. Throughout the year, they learn many new skills, and by end of the school year, most kids have mastered the skills required to complete their grade level. These skills can be tested. There is physical evidence that they have made the journey through their grade level.

School is also a journey of character. Kids begin a new school year with certain social and emotional skills. These are harder to measure, but by the end of the school year, most kids have changed and grown and developed social and emotional skills that show they have made the journey through their grade level too.

It’s exciting to watch your children learn and grow into smarter and more complex version of their past selves. So at the end of the school year, yeah…I do a happy dance!

While dancing today, I realized the journey kids take throughout the school year is very similar to the journey a character takes throughout a novel.

But how?

Do you know the difference between Plot and Story? They might seem like the same thing, but they’re not. In fact, if you can determine the difference, you’ll find it much easier to structure your writing. Everything you write will be simpler.

So what’s the difference?

Plot is your main character’s physical journey.
Story is your main character’s emotional journey.

The plot moves your character from a starting point (physical location) to an ending point (a new physical location). There may be obstacles along the way, but the physical part of those obstacles is the plot.

The story moves your character from the person she was at the beginning, to the person she becomes at the end. There may be struggles along the way, but the emotional part of her struggle is the story.

Another way to think of plot and story is it is action and reaction. In your novel, some action happens (plot) and your character reacts to what happens (story).

Plot is action, so if things are dragging or feel too slow, add more action. But if things are moving way to fast, add more of the character’s story. This will slow things down. A novel needs to have a balance of both plot and story (actions and reactions). They work together and when done well, your novel will be stronger. Many writers don’t know about plot vs. story. It’s a trick I learned in my research for revising my own novel for kids. I hope it can help you. It’s definitely simplified things for me!

Have a great week of writing and reading and maybe even dancing…just be sure to do it in the sunshine. Summer is here after all, and where I live, we have to enjoy every minute of it- without the backpacks!

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