Plot (narrative)

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Plot is a literary term for the events a story comprises, particularly as they relate to one another in a pattern, a sequence, through cause and effect, or by coincidence. One is generally interested in how well this pattern of events accomplishes some artistic or emotional effect. An intricate, complicated plot is called an imbroglio, but even the simplest statements of plot may include multiple inferences, as in traditional ballads.[citation needed] Basically a plot is the part of a story that survives re-telling in a very brief form. Two stories that summarized would read nearly identically are said to have the same plot, even if in their full telling they look nothing like one another. The Lion King is sometimes said to have the same plot as Hamlet.

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Aristotle on Plot

In his Poetics, Aristotle considered plot ("mythos") the most important element of drama -- more important than character, for example. A plot must have, Aristotle says, a beginning, a middle, and an end, and the events of the plot must causally relate to one another as being either necessary, or probable.

Of the utmost importance to Aristotle is the plot's ability to arouse emotion in the psyche of the audience. In tragedy, the appropriate emotions are fear and pity, emotions which he considers in his Rhetoric. (Aristotle's work on comedy has not survived.)

For Aristotle, a plot has two main parts: it tells of a change in fortune that happens to a character. The only kinds of change, he says, are from good fortune to bad, or bad to good. The types of character are the morally excellent person, the average person, and the bad person. Aristotle only discusses four of the six possible combinations as being relevant to tragedy, and he ranks these according to their ability to arouse fear and pity. The most tragic is the plot of a morally average character who goes from good fortune to bad because of a miscalculation or error (Hamartia; also translated as "tragic flaw").

Aristotle goes on to consider whether the tragic character suffers (pathos), and whether the tragic character commit the error with knowledge of what he is doing. He illustrates this with the question of a tragic character who is about to kill someone in his family.

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