Thursday, June 21, 2007

Plots, according to Damon Knight

Different types of plots, as summarized from Damon Knight's Creating Short Fiction:

  • The Story of Resolution, usually incorporating the five-point "plot skeleton:"

    1. a believable and sympathetic central character

    2. his urgent and difficult problem

    3. his attempts to resolve the problem, which fail and make the situation more desperate

    4. the crisis, his last chance to win

    5. the successful resolution, brought about by means of the central character's own courage, ingenuity, etc.
    Example: W. Somerset Maugham's "Rain"

  • The Story of Revelation. There is no conflict in the usual sense, but there is rising tension. Revelation replaces resolution. Sometimes, the conflict is a sham. (Knight also mentions the Story of Explanation but ironically does not explain the differences. Therefore I merge them here.)

    Example: Roald Dahl's "Man from the South", Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery", Joseph Conrad's "Youth", Nathaniel Hawthorne's "My Kinsman, Major Molineux"

  • Trick Ending, one with a twist at the end that defies a character's -- and the reader's -- expectations.

    Example: O. Henry stories, Guy de Maupassant's "The Necklace"

  • The Story of Decision, usually involving divided interests or loyalties. A pitfall of the story of decision is that the choice may appear too simple, and the ending fails because the decision is too obvious. The trick is to make the choice really difficult.

    Example: John Collier's "The Steel Cat"

  • The Story of Solution. Essentially, a puzzle story, one that is solved by the characters. Detective fiction falls into this category.

    Example: Lord Dunsany's "The Two Bottles of Relish"

  • The Story of Inevitable Disaster. The ending is exactly as might be predicted, but rivets our attention in the same way that an accident does. Alternatively, the ending may be averted but only by a deus ex machina. Usually written with a detached tone. (Knight does not list a separate category for this, but by the definition it seems to merit one.)

    Examples: Isaac Asimov's "Nightfall", JG Ballard's "Billenium"

  • Unplotted stories. No such skeletal structure, simply relates a series of events as they happen. Symbolism usually plays a part, but not necessarily so. The motive is the inner meaning of a human being's existence.

    Examples: Tolstoy's "The Death of Ivan Ilyich", Hemingway's "Big Two-Hearted River", Willa Cather's "Neighbor Rosicky"

  • A final note: "The story forms we have been discussing are not rigid little boxes into which every work of fiction must be crammed; they are ideal categories. In practice, elements of these forms are mixed in all kinds of ways. When you understand the simple forms, you can mix and combine them to form more sophisticated ones."


    1. wow, you're in full grad school mode these days, dom! i'm glad we're all going to benefit from your added knowledge :)

    2. He he...except that all my classes are undergrad. But then, one takes what one can get. Besides, lots of colegialas for classmates. :-D

    3. wow.. thanks for posting this stuff.. dagdag kaalaman :)

    4. Salamat, Jemme: galing din ng blog mo!

    5. I borrowed a tattered copy of Someone Like You from the library two months ago. Man from the South is one of my favorites. :) I liked The Great Automatic Grammatizator and Dip in the Pool. :))