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Types and Functions of Plot


Type of Plots 

The plot used in fictions can be differentiated into four types: linear, episodic, parallel, and flashback. The most common plot employed in short stories is the linear plot. Some short stories, though quite rarely, also use flashback plot. The episodic and parallel plots, however, are found only in long fiction, i.e. novels. Short storied do not use episodic and parallel plots because short stories normally concentrate on a single event with a very limited number of characters, while episodic and parallel plots include a series of events or more than one plot. The following section describes each plot briefly.


The Linear Plot

The linear plot (sometimes is also called dramatic or progressive plot) presents action or occurrences chronologically. It typically starts with an exposition (or introduction to the setting and characters) and the conflict. After that, the rising action follows which leads to a climax. Soon after the climax, falling action emerges which brings the reader to the resolution (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Dramatic Plot

Boccaro’s A Long walk Home is told using a linear or dramatic or progressive plot. It begins with the establishment of the setting and characters (Jackson and his father) and the conflict, i.e. a contest the Jackson and his father emerged from Jackson’s failure to pick up his father on time because he is so immersed in watching movies. After that some rising events (that make the conflict more complicated), like when Jackson makes up an excuse to avoid his father from being angry, when his father expresses his disappointment with his lie, and when he says that he calls the garage when Jackson does not turn up at 4 p.pm.

The climax in the story is when Jackson’s father gets angry with himself for realizing he has failed to educate Jackson. This climax is followed by some falling actions, like when Jackson’s father decides to punish himself by walking home and Jackson’s requesting his father to get into the car. These falling action lead to the resolution, i.e. when Jackson feels distressing and painful as he sees his father suffers from physical and emotional pain, and this experience teaches him not to lie to his father ever after.


Episodic Plot

Episodic plot also employs a chronological structure. However, unlike dramatic plot which concentrates on a single event, an episodic consists of a series of loosely related incidents, which are tied together by a common theme and/or characters. An episodic plot is used when the author wishes to show an event, place, time, or idea from many different angles, or when he wants to explore one or more character’s personalities or the socio-cultural background of the era (See Figure 2).

Since this plot includes various events with various characters, it can only be used in a novel. Many adventure novels employ this plot, in which each part or chapter usually highlights a character and presents a different aspect of the adventure. The presentation of these characters and adventure situations enables the reader to get a much larger understanding of the conflict.

 

Figure 2. Episodic Plot
Image credit: http://www2.nkfust.edu.tw/~emchen/CLit/study_elements.htm

Parallel Plot

A Parallel Plot is a structure that enables an author to combine or weave two or more dramatic plots in a story. In the beginning, these multiple dramatic plots run on their own up to their rising events but then crash together at the climax. Although they seem independent in the beginning, all of them are linked by a similar theme (Figure 3). This plot is very effective to create a very emotional moment in the climax among the readers because they have previously been involved in multiple rising actions.

 

Figure 3. Parallel Plot

Flashback Plot

A flashback plot presents action or occurrences inconsequentially so that the author is able to deliver information about events that occurred earlier. It allows the author to begin the story in the middle of a high-action point, and flash backward to provide back up to it. Such a backstory helps the readers get a full understanding of the present events before going to the upcoming events. As illustrated in Figure 4, the story starts with an event occurring in October 2018. To provide the readers with a full understanding of the event, the author flashes backward or presents the events taking place in some previous months of the same year. Close to the end of the story, the author proceeds telling the story chronologically by presenting the events occurring in November and December 2018. Flashbacks can occur more than once and in different parts of a story. In Figure 4, for instance, the events occurring in August 2018 is not followed by the event taking place in July 2018 but the one occurring in January 2018.

Figure 4. Flashback Plot
Adapted from: http://www2.nkfust.edu.tw/~emchen/CLit/study_elements.htm

Functions of Plot

Why is plot one of the most important parts of a story? We can provide three reasons to answer these questions. First, plot presents the story. Second, exposes the major character and his/her development. Third, plot reveals the theme.

As has been defined in the previous article, plot is a series of interconnected events that make up a story. It is the plot that presents the story. The author selects and arranges occurrences to gradually release the exposition—rising actions—climax—falling actions—resolution to create and maintain the reader’s interest. During the plot, the reader is emotionally involved and is eager to know what happens next. This motivates him/her to keep on reading. When he/she reaches the resolution, the reader is given a sense of completion for he has finished the story and reached a conclusion.

The second function of plot is to expose the characters. Just like in daily life, somebody’s personality is revealed through his actions (or what he does). In fiction, actions are usually employed to depict the characters’ personality and their roles in the story. An author generally focuses attention to the major character. Through what he does and says, the major character’s feelings, thoughts, and motives are revealed. How do you know Jackson’s personality in A Long Walk Home? Bocarro never directly describes him. He reveals Jackson through what he does, says, and thinks. Bocarro reveals him through the plot.

The third function of the plot is to reveal the theme. The author can surely present his idea through a direct statement. However, modern authors of fiction tend to express his theme indirectly through the fiction’s elements, and the plot is one of the major elements to do it. In A Long Walk Home, for instance, Bocarro never explicitly states that “a distressing and painful experience can be an effective lesson.” But he discloses the theme through what Jackson does in his interaction with his father during the plot.***

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