Plot is a neglected term that everyone seems to take for granted. We all assume we know what it means, and yet its definition turns out to be somewhat elusive.

Plot has been called "the arrangement of the action," "the struggle found in fiction," "the structure of a story Ė the sequence in which the author arranges events." It has also been said that "plot is why," which is cute and seemingly efficient, but we think it is unduly narrow for a definition of such a broad term.

To distinguish plot from story in our minds, letís begin by saying that story is, to our minds, the essential thread of what needs to be told, the cluster of facts that makes a story complete, even when these facts arenít shaped into the most interesting literary configuration. Plot then is the strategic arrangement of the conflict and suspense elements that drive a story. Ideally a plot structures a story in the most compelling and tantalizing fashion.

Other resources.

Plot: In literary criticism, this term refers to the pattern of events in a narrative or drama. In its simplest sense, the plot guides the author in composing the work and helps the reader follow the work. Typically, plots exhibit causality and unity and have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Sometimes, however, a plot may consist of a series of disconnected events, in which case it is known as an "episodic plot."

In his Aspects of the Novel, E. M. Forster distinguishes between a story, defined as a "narrative of events arranged in their time-sequence," and plot, which organizes the events to a "sense of causality." This definition closely mirrors Aristotle's discussion of plot in his Poetics." Thompson-Gale, Glossary of Literary Terms.

"The structure of a story. The sequence in which the author arranges events in a story. The structure of a five-act play often includes the rising action, the climax, the falling action, and the resolution. The plot may have a protagonist who is opposed by antagonist, creating what is called, conflict." Littauer, Dictionary of Literary Terms

PLOT: The structure and relationship of actions and events in a work of fiction. In order for a plot to begin, some sort of catalyst is necessary. While the temporal order of events in the work constitutes the "story," we are speaking of plot rather than story as soon as we look at how these events relate to one another, and how they are rendered and organized so as to achieve their particular effects. Note that, while it is most common for events to unfold chronologically (in which the first event happens first, the second event happens second, and so on), many stories structure the plot in such a way that the reader encounters happenings out of order. A common technique along this line is to "begin" the story in the middle of the action, a technique called beginning in medias res (Latin for "in the middle[s] of things"). Some narratives involve several short episodic plots occurring one after the other (like chivalric romances), or they may involve multiple subplots taking place simultaneously with the main plot (as in many of Shakespeare's plays). Wheeler, Literary Terms and Definitions (

A couple of on-line References that give you pointers on PLOT: