E. M. Forster On Plot

“Let us define plot.  We have defined a story as a narrative of events arranged in their time-sequence.  A plot is also a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality.  “The king died, and then the queen died” is a story.  “The king died, and then the queen died of grief” is a plot.  The time-sequence is preserved, but the sense of causality overshadows it.  Or again: “The queen died, no one knew why, until it was discovered that it was through grief at the death of the king.”  This is a plot with a mystery in it, a form capable of high development.  It suspends the time-sequence, it moves as far away from the story as its limitations will allow.  Consider the death of the queen.  If it is in a story we say “and then?”  If it is in a plot we ask “why?”  That is the fundamental difference between these two aspects of the novel.  A plot cannot be told to a gaping audience of cave-men or to a tyrannical sultan or to their modern descendant the movie-piblic.  They can only be kept awake by “and then—and then—”  They can only supply curiosity.  But a plot demands intelligence and memory also.  — E. M. Forster, from Aspects of the Novel


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One thought on “E. M. Forster On Plot

  1. Great post. He makes it seem so simple, which I guess it is in the end. But getting there is so much work! I recently read A Passage to India which has some of the simplest but most satisfying plot twists in literature.

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