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Plot

Aspects of the Novel, Oedipus Rex, The Alchemist, Tom Jones, fabula, sjuzet, Sjuzet

story events plots sjuzet

and Story need to be thought of together, since even in conflicting current uses the words continue to function as a pair. Sometimes they are used interchangeably, as simple synonyms: ‘retelling the story’ would be exactly the same as a ‘plot summary’. At other times they are clearly distinguished. E. M. Forster, in Aspects of the Novel (1927), thought a plot was ‘an organism of a higher type’ than a story. A story was a mere sequence of events, but a plot ‘demands intelligence and memory’, it is a structure of events, the ‘logical intellectual aspect’ of a narrative, ‘the emphasis falling on causality’. Aristotle said the plot was the soul of the story, and Coleridge particularly admired the plots of Oedipus Rex, The Alchemist, and Tom Jones (‘the most perfect plots ever planned’). Complicated plots were much in favour in the nineteenth century and perhaps mirrored a world felt to be full of complex and multiple interrelations. Plot was scorned by early modern writers, but has made a comeback in later fiction, notably that which leans towards magic realism. Translators and followers of the Russian Formalists (see formalism) use ‘story’ and ‘plot’ to represent fabula and sjuzet, literally fable and subject. This usage is not the same as Forster's, but it is not incompatible with it; indeed, there is a certain overlap. The story/fabula in a narrative is the events as they would have occurred or did occur in time, the linear progression of one thing after another. The plot/sjuzet is the arrangement of events in the story as we read or hear it. Since even the simplest stories are arranged to some degree, and apparently simple stories often turn out to have very complicated narrative organizations, the story in effect is always reconstructed, while the plot is what we actually perceive but often forget. ‘I saw her when she was on her way to the bank’ and ‘She was on her way to the bank when I saw her’ are sentences with the same story but (slightly) different plots. Sjuzet has sometimes been translated as discourse in order to separate its meaning from older and looser uses of the word ‘plot’.

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