On Writing

Plot and Genre

What’s the difference?

A plot is a sequence of events that make up a story. It has a beginning, middle, and end. Sounds simple enough, right?

Author E. M. Forester illustrated this with a simple comparison. Take a basic story, such as, “The king died and then the queen died.”  We don’t have much of a plot, certainly not one that would capture your attention on the back jacket of book. Let’s change this to “The king died and then the queen died of grief.”  Now we have a plot, subtle as it may be.

So, as a writer, do I own the plot of my story? No. When we really get down to it, there just aren’t that many plots. The actual number of available plots for authors to draw upon is a debated topic. If we “owned” the plot to our stories, we would have run out of things to read long ago. Plots are recycled, retold, rebooted, etc. To illustrate this, we’re going to play Name That Story.

Orphaned at birth, this boy is raised by his aunt and uncle. The boy has special powers that set him apart as a bit of an outcast. He joins with a ragtag group and forms lasting bonds that will see him through the worst of times. He receives help from people in his life who prepare him to face a powerful and dark figure intent on destroying everything the boy holds dear.

Which story is this?

If you guessed Harry Potter, you are correct. If you guessed Star Wars, you are also correct. If you guess Superman or Spider-man, you are correct again (the superheros were my husband’s guesses). I’m sure this same plot can be applied to a number of stories, whether it is a book, comic, poem, television, play, or movie. Even the award-winning musical West Side Story is a retelling of Romeo and Juliet. What’s important as authors is how you use the plot to tell your story.

How does this differ from genre? Let’s look at the answers to our game. Harry Potter belongs to a number of genres, including fantasy and speculative fiction. Star Wars is science fiction and fantasy.

A genre is simply a way to group together books with similar style, form, or elements. Can a book be classified under more than one genre? Of course. As an author, are you limited to just certain plots for certain genres? No. Feel free to use the best plot for your story. Just keep in mind if you are trying to write for a particular genre, it’s a good idea to know what style, form, and content are needed. An example of an author who took a well-known book (and plot) and changed it up is Seth Grahame-Smith. He wrote Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by setting Jane Austen’s beloved Pride and Prejudice in a world that included zombies. This simple addition to the plot expanded the available genres for the book to include horror, thriller, parody, and mashup.

So, whether you’re writing man vs. nature or a modern-day adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, you can recycle the plot by writing a story that is uniquely your own and fits whatever genre you are interested in writing.

Now it’s your turn. Have you rebooted a well-known story or reused a plot by adding your own unique twist? Share your experiences with the Divas by leaving a comment below.

Happy writing!


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