From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
- The general course of a story including significant events that determine its course or significant patterns of events.
- A plan to commit a crime.
According to Aristotle's Poetics, a plot is "the arrangement of incidents" that (ideally) each follow plausibly from the other. The plot is like the pencil outline that guides the painter's brush (compare sketch), and as such can be distinguished from the story or narrative that is framed by the plot. When a plot is like the pencil outline that guides the painter’s brush, the story is comparable to the finished painting. An example of the type of plot which follows these sorts of lines is the linear plot of development to be discerned within the pages of a Bildungsroman novel. Aristotle notes that a string of unconnected speeches, no matter how well-exhausted, will not have as much emotional impact as a series of tightly connected speech delivered by perfect speakers.
Aristotle used the term mythos to denote plot. The description is deceptively simple, because the actions are performed by particular characters in a work and are the means by which they exhibit their moral and dispositional qualities.
The concept of plot and the associated concept of construction of plot, emplotment, has developed considerably since Aristotle made these insightful observations. The episodic narrative tradition which Aristotle indicates has systematically been subverted over the intervening years, to the extent that the concept of beginning, middle, end are merely regarded as a conventional device when no other is at hand.
This is particularly true in the cinematic tradition, in which the folding and reversal of episodic narrative is now commonplace. Moreover, many writers and film directors, particularly those with a proclivity for the Modernist or other subsequent and derivative movements which emerged during or after the early 20th century, seem more concerned that plot is an encumbrance to their artistic medium than an assistance. Avant-garde novelist and critic Giorgio Manganelli said «Personally, I'm interested in books that have a theme rather than a plot; those that is not possible, or that is excessively tough, to summarize.» 
The term plot-driven is used to describe work in which a preconceived plot and climax is the main thrust of the work, with the characters' behaviour being moulded by this inevitable sequence of events. It is usually regarded as being the opposite of character-driven.
Typical plot structure
- Initial situation - the beginning. It is the first incident that makes the story move.
- Conflict or Problem - goal which the main character of the story has to achieve.
- Complication - obstacles which the main character has to overcome.
- Climax - highest point of interest of the story.
- Suspense - point of tension. It arouses the interest of the readers.
- Dénouement or Resolution - what happens to the character after overcoming all obstacles/failing to achieve the desired result and reaching/not reaching his goal.
- Conclusion - the end result of the climax
Note that this is a simplification, and that not all stories follow this archetypal structure.
The plot of historical events
Epistemological historian Paul Veyne (1971: 46-47; English trans. by Min Moore-Rinvolucri 1984: 32-33) applies the concept to real-life events, defining plot as “the fabric of history”, a system of interconnected historical facts:
“Facts do not exist in isolation, in the sense that the fabric of history is what we shall call a plot, a very human and not very ‘scientific’ mixture of material causes, aims, and chances--a slice of life, in short, that the historian cuts as he [sic] wills and in which facts have their objective connections and relative importance...the word plot has the advantage of reminding us that what the historian studies is as human as a play or a novel....then what are the facts worthy of rousing the interest of the historian? All depends on the plot chosen; a fact is interesting or uninteresting...in history as in the theater, to show everything is impossible--not because it would require too many pages, but because there is no elementary historical fact, no event worthy atom. If one ceases to see events in their plots, one is sucked into the abyss of the infinitesimal.”
- Dramatic structure
- Plot device
- Georges Polti's The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations
- The Seven Basic Plots