Devious Plots, part 2: What is this "plot" you speak of?

 This is part of a six-part series on plot. You can find the other parts here:
~Devious Plots, part 1: If Stephan King doesn't do it, why should I?
~Devious Plots, part 3: Don't put the toilet in the living room
~Devious Plots, part 4: Plot store!
~Devious Plots, part 5: More plot store!
~Devious Plots, part 6: Plot store, final sale!

On Wednesday's post, one commenter pointed out that plot and outline are not the same thing.  This is not only true, but illustrates a primary difficulty we often have when talking about subjects like plot. Plotting means different things to different people.

But what exactly is plot anyway? What is the difference between a plot and plotting? Or plotting and outlining?

Let's see what the all-knowing Webster has to say.

Plot: (noun): the plan or main story as of a movie or literary work.

Plot (verb): to make a plot, map, or plan of,  to mark or note on or as if on a map or chart, to invent or devise the plot of (as a movie or a literary work)

Outline (verb): to draw the outline of, to indicate the principal features or different parts of, (i.e. he outlined their responsibilities.)

As you can see, plotting has to do with mapping out the story, while outlining is more about highlighting the different parts of the map.  But how does that help us? Especially when some people think of maps like this:

And others think of maps like this:

What's a writer to do?

Instead of using the vague terms outline, and plot, I like the term organize. There are a lot of definitions of organizing in the dictionary, but there are four that I particularly like.


-to cause to develop an organic structure,
-to form into a coherent unity or functioning whole
-to arrange by systematic planning and united effort
-to arrange elements into a whole of interdependent parts

Everything we're talking about here, plotting, outlining, etc; they're all tools for organization. Whether you do the work before the first draft or after it, the goal is to make your story an organic, coherent, functioning whole. That is what your reader wants and deserves.

Any thoughts?


  1. I like the word organization as well, as you showed. I'm afraid the map I would make looks a lot like the first one.
    N. R. Williams, fantasy author

  2. N.R. Nothing wrong with a treasure map! Sometimes too much detail gets in the way of the adventure.


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