Episode 24

Story vs Plot vs Premise

Today we’re discussing the difference between story, plot, and premise. We’re also talking about decreased print sales, Amazon’s ebook return policy, and vigilante justice. Plus, we visit the world’s oldest bookstore.

Music licensed from Storyblocks:

“More Jam Please” by Raighes Factory

“Poolside in Paradise” by Humans Win

“Summer of 2022” by Himanshu Katara

“Danza Appassionata” by Humans Win

“Gentle Swim” by Jon Presstone

Rosemi Mederos:

If you have plot bunnies coming out of your plot holes, it’s time for a writing break.

Today we’re discussing the difference between story, plot, and premise. We’re also talking about decreased print sales, Amazon’s ebook return policy, and vigilante justice. Plus, we visit the world’s oldest bookstore.

Way in the back of this bookstore is a cafe, and this one serves wine, so let’s head there first.

We are at Livraria Bertrand do Chiado in Lisbon, Portugal, which holds the Guiness World Record as the oldest operating bookstore in the world.

rand Bookstore was founded in:

Portugal has many beautiful and famous bookstores, but this one has both age and beauty. The bookstore resides in an 18th-century building, but the bookshop has a contemporary, sophisticated interior with ceiling archways leading you from room to room and each room lined with wooden bookshelves.

The literary-themed cafe is tucked away at the back of the store. The cafe tables are black, the chairs are red, and the walls are white. Just the right color scheme for engaging conversation. They serve gourmet pastries, coffee, and wine. Take your pick, and I’ll catch you up on the latest publishing news.

The paper shortage continues, with 7% of subscribers to People magazine and Better Homes & Gardens magazine not getting their issues delivered. They are being offered free access to the digital version of the magazines instead. There is also some concern in the USA that there will be a shortage of election materials in November’s midterm elections.

I’m doing my part to help with the paper shortage. I finally got a Kindle paperwhite. Thank you to everyone who chimed in with their advice as to what e-reader I should get.

compared to the same week in:

Speaking of Kindle, Amazon’s ebook return policy is back in the news. Under Amazon’s current return policy, an ebook can be returned within 7 days in the USA and 14 days in the UK, even if the book has been downloaded and read. Recent viral videos showing this so-called life hack has caused an increase in ebook returns. However, this is not a victimless act because authors are charged a fee for each ebook that is downloaded. Amazon does not refund that download fee if an ebook is returned. So, when an ebook is returned, the author loses the royalties plus the download fee.

Authors and readers alike are looking to change Amazon’s policy to prevent abuse by readers and make it fair for the authors. The main argument is that other digital products, such as movies and music, are not refundable on Amazon, so why is an ebook refundable?

If you think you could write the next Jack Reacher character, there’s an audience ready to read your book. According to a report by K-lytics, vigilante justice is a subgenre with a high number of sales and a low number of new titles, making it a great category for authors looking to break into crime, thriller, or mystery genres.

Links to these articles can be found in the show notes of this episode and on writingbreak.com.

And now, let’s take a quick stroll around the world’s oldest bookstore and check out an independent author.

Carlo Matos is an award-winning Portuguese-American writer who writes poems, stories, and essays. Matos’s talent is in blending the popular with the profound. If you’re not sure where to start with Matos, check out his collection of essays called The Quitters. This book QUOTE “explores the beauty and pain embedded in some of our favorite rough-and-tumble pastimes—roller derby, mixed martial arts, and teaching. Carlo Matos ties it all together with gusto, in a book that will send you reeling to the canvas again and again, and make you return every time for more.” END QUOTE.

Let’s take it to the register and make sure the cashier marks it with their stamp certifying it was purchased at the world’s oldest bookstore. Then, we’ll head over to the dark brown Chesterfield sofa for today’s writing tip.

While we often use plot and story interchangeably, strictly speaking, plot and story in literature are not interchangeable terms.

An easy way to remember the difference is that story is internal and plot is external.

Going further, story tells us about the characters, their backstories, and their current conflicts. The book’s setting is also part of the story.

Plot consists of actions that take place during the book.

Let’s take Romeo & Juliet, for example. Warning: spoilers ahead.

The protagonists are a teenage girl and a teenage boy. Their relevant backstory is that their families have been feuding for generations. Juliet’s conflict at the beginning of the story is that her family wants her to marry Paris, but she isn’t interested. Romeo’s conflict at the beginning of the story is that he wants to be with Rosaline, but she isn’t interested in him. The setting is 14-century Verona.

That is the story. Secondary but still important parts of the story are the friends and relatives they care for and who care for them. All of the characters have personality traits that are part of the story and drive the plot. For example, the protagonists are passionate and impulsive. Their personalities cause them to react to the plot in certain ways, and their reactions are the story, not the plot.

So, what is the plot? Plot is the meaningful action that happens during the story. We don’t need to know about every meal or wardrobe change in Romeo and Juliet, but we do need to know about the upcoming ball during which the protagonists meet, the deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt, the secret marriage, and the delayed messenger.

it did if you read it before:

Getting back to plot versus story:

When Juliet awakes and sees Romeo is dead, that is plot. Her reaction, which is to decide she no longer wants to live, is story. Her action, stabbing herself, is plot. The families learning of the deaths is plot. The families deciding to end the feud is story.

Remember, plot is your character's physical journey and story is your character's emotional journey.

Now, we move on to the premise. When people ask you, “What is your book about?”, you should be ready to respond with the premise.

This week, I want you to work on the premise of your work in progress. This is an important part of the brainstorming process we began last week. As you get further into your novel writing, you’ll be able to look back at your premise and make sure that you are keeping true to what you want your work to be about.

So, what is the premise of a book? This is the summary of a story’s main plot. We know that story is internal and plot is external, so is the premise a summary of the internal’s external? Mmmm, let’s figure this one out.

Start by writing one sentence about the plot.

Then write a second sentence about the story.

Now edit the two sentences into a paragraph until the relationship between the plot and the story makes sense.

Bonus points is you can edit the paragraph down to a one-sentence premise.

Going back to Romeo & Juliet, Shakespeare gives us the premise in the prologue:

A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life;

Whose misadventured piteous overthrows

Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife.

In modern English, Two doomed lovers commit suicide, thereby ending their parents’ feud.

Before we depart, if you’re writing a screenplay or if you turn to movies and TV shows for writing inspiration, indulge me in a moment of overthinking about how the weight of plot and story in visual media is different from that of print media.

Now that we are clear on plot versus story, I want to point out that books are more story-oriented than movies. If you’re a screenwriter, then you know story can be hard to convey visually, and the last thing you want to do is write a screenplay that is heavily reliant on voiceover. This is why plot takes over in visual media. The audience is looking at the screen, so it wants to see things. As Marshall McLuhan taught us, “The medium is the message.”

If you’re writing a novel and watching movies but not reading books, it’s possible that you’re going to struggle when it comes to filling the reader in on the story. You might have an action-packed book that doesn’t have enough heart or you might put in too much story not knowing when it becomes a drag to read. Get inspiration wherever you can, but if you’re writing a book, you should be studying other authors. And if you’re writing a screenplay, you should be studying other filmmakers.

Whether you’re writing a screenplay, a short story, or a full-length novel, you can come up with a premise that includes both story and plot.

Develop your story’s premise this week, and I’ll be back next week to take a look at your protagonist.

Until then, thanks for listening and remember, you deserved this break.

If you would like us to visit your favorite independent bookstore, feature your favorite independent author (even if it’s you), or discuss something you’re overthinking about, please email me at podcast@writingbreak.com.

Thank you for making space in your mind for The Muse today.

Writing Break is hosted by America’s Editor and produced by Allon Media with technical direction by Gus Aviles. Visit us at writingbreak.com or contact us at podcast@writingbreak.com.

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Rosemi Mederos


Rosemi is the founder of America's Editor, a book editing company.