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E.M. Forster: The Difference Between Story and Plot

E.M. Forster: The Difference Between Story and Plot

Story: the king died and then the queen died.

Plot: the king died and then the queen died because of grief.

Edward Morgan Forster was an English novelist, short story writer and essayist. He is best known for A Room With a View (1908), Howard’s End (1910) and A Passage to India (1924).

Forster wrote Aspects of the Novel in 1927. Aspects of the Novel was a pioneering work,  examining ‘aspects all English-language novels have in common: story, people, plot, fantasy, prophecy, pattern, and rhythm.’

While in the third century Aristotle had noted the subtle difference between ‘incident’ and ‘plot’, it was Forster in Aspects of the Novel who developed this idea and established the difference between ‘story’ and ‘plot’, defining a story as ‘a narrative of events arranged in their time sequence.’

Forster wrote a story ‘can only have one merit: that of making the audience want to know what happens next. “The king died and then the queen died” is a story.’

‘A plot is also a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality –  “The king died and then the queen died” is a story.’ But ‘“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.’

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13 Comments

  1. Nick Schwab
    2 January 2022 / 9:17 pm

    I remember getting taught this and just getting really-really confused. At the time I was naive and soft-spoken so I couldn’t really express why it didn’t seem right.
    Many decades later I now know. Forster is just wrong.
    His example should be flipped.
    A plot is a sequence of events not a story.
    Also… ‘of’ implies causation. Thus with the word ‘grief’ if implies depth, characterizations, emotions, and themes.
    Which are story elements not plot.
    The sentiment is there. But this quote should be forgotten.

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