How many ways can you structure a plot?

Plotting isn’t always my favorite thing, but I do like books and movies with nonlinear plots.  So I was trying to think of all the different ways you can structure a plot. Here’s the list I came up with:

  1. Chronological.  Straight forward, one plot point after another.
  2. Circular.   The story comes full circle in some way.  Ground Hog Day would be an extreme example. Usually, there’s some element that ties the end back to the beginning.
  3. Disconnected.  The story isn’t told in one continuous stream.  The narrative jumps forward, flashes back, but the seemingly disconnected scenes come together to form a whole story in the end. Think Pulp Fiction or The Time Traveler’s Wife.
  4. Nested / framed .  There’s a story within a story (maybe even within a story).  Adaptation (2008) is the best example I can think of. It’s a movie about writing a movie based a book about real life Orchid thieves.  The outer story—Charlie Kaufman (Nicholas Cage) struggling to adapt the book—gets intertwined with the inner story about the subject of the book.
  5. Wandering / tangential.  Think Family Guy. One action leads to another in a wholly unexpected direction or consequence. Brian and Stewie may start off showing a pig at the county fair, but they end up in an alternative universe where Brian is human.  But it all works.

Can you guys think of any other plot structures or examples? 

12 comments:

Kate Evangelista said...

Backwards. You start with the ending and make your way back to the beginning. This is difficult, but if done well, can be gripping. :-)

Matthew MacNish said...

I suppose Stream of Consciousness sorta falls under disconnected, but I've always found it even harder to follow.

The backwards that Kate mentions makes me think of Pulp Fiction. I suppose it's not perfectly backwards, but mostly it is.

Ava Jae said...

Hmm, I can't think of any other plot structures, but disconnected made me think of The Social Network.

Karen Akins said...

Might fall under the heading of "Disconnected", but Memoir is backward.

Angie Smibert said...

You're right. I forgot backwards. The movie Memento is great example of that. It's kind reverse chronological and disconnected.

Becky Mushko said...

Great list! Thanks for posting.

Adam Meyers said...

Story is Structure, the say. I guess figuring out which structure and how is half of creating a great book. :)

Guilie said...

Perfect post -- thanks!

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