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1.3 Understanding how a story’s structure affects interpretations

6 min readjanuary 25, 2023

ChristineLing

ChristineLing


AP English Literature 📚

145 resources
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Introduction

This is study guide 1.3. Today, we’ll look at the role of plot in creating different meanings of a work of literature. Writers use plot and specific sequencing in order to highlight certain aspects of their writing, and reduce the spotlight on others. If you want to learn how and why, continue reading!

General: Structure

The structure of a text refers to the way in which the parts and sections of the text are organized and arranged. This includes the relationship between different parts of the text, as well as the sequence in which information is presented.
These structural choices made by a writer can have a significant impact on the reader's interpretation of the text. For example, a writer might choose to begin a story with a climax, or to reveal information about a character gradually over the course of the text. These choices can affect the reader's understanding of the story, and can influence their emotional response to the text.
There are several different types of plot structure that writers can use in their narratives. Some common types include:
  • Chronological: This is the most straightforward plot structure, in which the events are presented in the order in which they occurred. This type of plot structure is often used in historical fiction or biographies.
  • Non-chronological: In this type of plot structure, the events are presented out of order, often using flashbacks or flash-forwards to reveal information about the past or future. This type of plot structure can create a sense of mystery or uncertainty, and it can also reveal information about a character's motivations or actions.
  • Linear: A linear plot structure presents the events in a cause-and-effect sequence, following the hero's journey and taking the reader step by step through the story.
  • Cyclical: This type of plot structure presents the events in a circular pattern, often repeating the same events or themes in different ways. This type of plot structure is often used in mythological or allegorical stories.
  • Episodic: In this type of plot structure, the story is broken down into a series of loosely connected episodes or vignettes, rather than one continuous plot. This structure is often used in comedies and slice-of-life stories.
  • Subplot: This type of plot structure has multiple interwoven plotlines that complement the main plot and provide additional depth and complexity to the story.
These are just a few examples of the different types of plot structure that writers can use. Each one has its own strengths and weaknesses, and the choice of plot structure will depend on the story the writer wants to tell and the effect they want to create on their readers.

Specific: Plot in Depth

Plot is the sequence of events in a narrative, which are connected and build on one another, often with a cause-and-effect relationship. It creates the structure and progression of the story, and is composed of different elements that contribute to the overall narrative.
The plot is significant in a narrative because it creates a sense of direction and purpose for the story. Without a well-structured plot, the story would lack coherence and the reader would have difficulty following the events or understanding the significance of the characters' actions. A strong plot also creates tension and suspense, which keeps the reader engaged and invested in the story.
Furthermore, the plot also gives the story a sense of meaning and significance by providing a resolution to the conflicts and themes that are presented throughout the narrative. The resolution gives the story a sense of closure and allows the reader to understand the message or moral of the story.

Dramatic Situation

Let’s look at something called dramatic situation. This is how College Board defines it:
The dramatic situation of a narrative includes the setting and action of the plot and how that narrative develops to place characters in conflict(s), and often involves the rising or falling fortunes of a main character or set of characters.
 

Types of Dramatic Situation

There are several different types of dramatic situations that can be found in literature and storytelling, here are some examples:
  • Tragedy: This type of dramatic situation is characterized by a tragic event or series of events that leads to the downfall of the protagonist. The tragic event is often caused by a flaw in the protagonist's character, and it leads to their eventual death or destruction.
  • Comedy: This type of dramatic situation is characterized by lighthearted and humorous events, often with a happy ending. The characters are usually placed in amusing or ridiculous situations, and the story often ends with the characters finding a way to overcome their obstacles and achieve their goal.
  • Romance: This type of dramatic situation is characterized by a love story, often involving a struggle to overcome obstacles and attain love. The story often ends with the characters finding happiness and fulfillment in their romantic relationship.
  • Adventure: This type of dramatic situation is characterized by action and danger, often involving a journey or quest. The protagonist faces challenges and obstacles, and the story often ends with the protagonist achieving their goal or overcoming the obstacles.
  • Mystery: This type of dramatic situation is characterized by an event or crime that needs to be solved. The story often ends with the protagonist solving the crime, revealing the truth and bringing justice.
  • Fantasy: This type of dramatic situation is characterized by an imaginary world, with supernatural creatures and magical powers. The story often ends with the protagonist overcoming magical obstacles and achieving their goal.
These are just a few examples of the different types of dramatic situations that can be found in literature and storytelling. Each one has its own unique features and characteristics, and the choice of dramatic situation will depend on the story the writer wants to tell and the effect they want to create on their readers.
Essentially, it establishes the context and foundation for the events that unfold. It also helps you, the reader, understand how the events, characters, and conflicts are connected. By analyzing the dramatic situation, you can gain a deeper understanding of the story and the message the author is trying to convey.

Sequencing and its Impact

The sequence/order of events is a strategic choice by the writer to highlight their desired ideas. It determines the progression of the plot and how information is revealed to the reader, impacting the reader's understanding and emotional response to the story. Let’s compare a few structures (as mentioned before in the General: Structure section) and learn about how they impact the reading experience.
Firstly, if a story begins with a climax, the reader is immediately drawn into the story and is given a sense of the conflict and tension that will drive the plot. This can create a sense of immediacy and urgency, and it can make the reader more invested in the story. On the other hand, if the story begins with a lot of background information, the reader may become bored or disengaged, and they may have a harder time getting invested in the story.
Another example: if a story is told non-chronologically, using flashbacks or flash-forwards, it can create a sense of mystery or uncertainty, and reveal information about a character's motivations and history. This can make the story more complex and interesting, as characters are not immediately presented clearly. It can also make the reader more invested in the story, as they are constantly trying to piece together the events and understand the characters' actions.
In contrast, a linear plot structure that presents the events in a cause-and-effect sequence, following the hero's journey and taking the reader step by step through the story, can make the story more straightforward and easy to follow. However, it may lack depth and complexity. Depending on the goal of the writer, this may be what they want!
While reading, pay attention to sequencing. You can use it to help you determine what the work’s primary themes and topics are.

Conclusion

In summary, in this study guide, we looked at the role of plot in creating different meanings in a work of literature. We discussed how writers use plot structure and specific sequencing to highlight certain aspects of their writing and reduce the spotlight on others. We also looked at different types of plot structure such as chronological, non-chronological, linear, cyclical, episodic, and subplot. We mentioned how the plot is significant in a narrative as it creates a sense of direction and purpose, creates tension and suspense, and gives the story a sense of meaning and significance by providing a resolution to the conflicts and themes. We briefly talked about dramatic situation, which is the setting and action of the plot and how it develops to place characters in conflict. 
Overall, the structure and plot of a text play a crucial role in shaping the reader's interpretation and understanding of the story.
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