Story vs. Plot

The Terms Defining Story and Plot


In everyday conversation the terms PLOT and STORY might be used interchangeably. THEY MEAN DIFFERENT THINGS when we speak about movies.

Story: In a narrative film, all the events that we see and hear in the order the film presents them, plus all those that we infer or assume to have occurred, arranged in the mind of the viewer in their presumed causal relations, chronological order, duration, frequency, and spatial locations. The TOTAL WORLD of the STORY is called its DIEGESIS. Things that we see and hear on the screen but that come from outside the world of the story are called NON-DIEGETIC elements.


PLOT:  In a narrative film, the Plot is a structure for presenting everything we directly see and hear in a film. It includes all the events that we see and hear in the order the film presents them. Secondly, Plot includes all the NON-DIEGETIC elements in the movie.


Diegesis (Diegetic): Things which exist within the “world” of the film’s narrative. The diegesis includes events that are presumed to have occurred and actions and spaces not shown onscreen. This includes all people, places, things, sounds that are part of the world of the story.


Non-diegetic elements of a film do not “exist” or “take place” in the same plane of reality that the character’s inhabit. For example, presumably the characters within an action film do not “hear” the rousing theme music that accompanies their exploits. That music is non-diegetic, but still part of the film’s Plot. Opening Credits and voice-over narration are also non-diegetic, and are part of the film’s Plot but not its Story.


Diegetic sound: Any voice, musical passage, or sound effect presented as originating from a source within the film’s world.


Non-diegetic sound: Sound, such as mood music or narrator’s commentary, represented as coming from a source outside the space of the narrative.


Narrative: A term denoting a story in any form of human expression where no single individual is telling the story.


Narration: The process through which the plot conveys or withholds story information. The narration can be more or less restricted to character knowledge and more or less deep in presenting characters’ mental perceptions and thoughts. Narrative includes everything that is supposed to have happened in the Story. Plot is more concretely the scenes that are presented in the film, in the precise order in which they are presented.





From David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson, Film Art: An Introduction (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1993)

Leave a Reply