What are we saying when we say that a book has a good narrative? What is the plot in a narrative?
The plot is the addition of all events and actions that determine and change the course of a narrative. On another post of this blog, it was mentioned that entertainment literature is generally focused on what a character wants to accomplish, the protagonist. Therefore, in this type of literature, the plot is composed by this objective, and the main conflicts, advancements or twists that take place along the character’s path. While focusing on the most relevant aspects of the story, the plot is also a summary of it.
The description of the plot can take a phrase, several paragraphs, or many pages, according to the level of detail required. For example, to define literary genres, it is possible to say that thrillers have a plot in which the protagonist needs to stop a threat, and, that police mysteries have a plot in which the protagonist needs to discover who the killer is. When in conversation it is asked: what is the plot of that novel?, or in a colloquial language: what is that novel about?, probably the answer would take a few phrases. For other purposes, which we will be getting into later, it is possible to create a description of a plot that takes up many pages.
Let’s get into more detail on the elements of the plot of a story of entertainment literature:
Objective. Let’s consider an example: Juan Monsalve wants to avoid a terrorist from detonating a bomb in a building downtown. A different objective would cause the plot to change. For example, Juan Monsalve pretends to avoid an assassin from murdering the President. It is possible that the character has other purposes (sentimental, work related, etc.); or also, that throughout the story the objective changes or is modified: Juan Monsalve may discover that the terrorist is working for someone more powerful, who he also needs to capture.
Conflicts. The conflicts make the path of the character towards his objective more difficult. The plot in the story of Juan Monsalve will change according to the type of conflict: whether the terrorist wants to kill him or not, whether Juan knows the identity of the terrorist or not, whether his superior at the precinct wants to fire him or not, etc.
Advancements. Besides the type of conflicts, the decision on how to overcome them will also determine the story, as the same conflict can be dealt with in different ways. If the terrorist is cornered with the detonator, Juan Monsalve will decide whether he will try to convince him with some offer or whether he will come at him shooting, among other choices.
Twists. A twist deviates the story from its expected course. For example, if it is revealed that an alleged accomplice is in fact an intelligence agent and he gives Juan Monsalvo valuable information, then the course of the plot will change. Something similar will happen if it is discovered that the terrorist does not want to make a political impact with the bomb, but demands a cash payment.
Characters. The plot is independent from the characters to some degree, as other characters with different characteristics may live it. For example, Juan Monsalve may have good or bad temper; he may be Catalina Monsalve or be 20, 35 or 50 years old. However, certain plots may be more suitable for certain characters in order to enforce the story, and other plots may even require the characters to have certain specific characteristics. For example, if Fernando Ramírez wants to become boxing world champion, but one of his conflicts is that he needs to stop drinking and taking drugs, then the character shall have some features and personal background that adhere to this narrative. (The opposite will happen when we develop the story starting from a character: some plots go better with some specific characters).