Plot and Structure

The plot of a dramatic or narrative work is the chronological order of its actions -- the verbal or physical actions as performed by a particular character or set of characters. The structure of a work, in contrast, is the order of events as presented in the text.

Ask yourself the following as you read any work of narrative:

  1. How are the various incidents and episodes that constitute the plot structured in the text?
  2. What does the structure of the work lead you to expect about the general shape of the plot?
  3. What kinds of desires or anxieties does the plot engender?
  4. Is there more than one plot? Are they related? Do these plots mirror one another? Do they cross at any point?
  5. Are the events of the plot structured to unfold chronologically? Are there gaps, breaks, or reversals?
  6. What initiates the plot? How does it close? Does it close?

Consider the following questions throughout the course [English 32 at Brown University, 1987 syllabus]:

  1. How would you compare the ways in which the various plots that you encounter in this course are structured in the texts?
  2. Make a list of specific points of contact and difference between the plots (and the ways in which they are structured) of Waterland, Pride and Prejudice, Great Expectations, and To the Lighthouse.
  3. Do you notice any changes in plots and plot structures as you move in time from Jane Austen to Graham Swift? Are there historical and cultural factors that might account for these changes

Last modified 21 September 2007