Prof. Jessica Penner | OL05 | Fall 2020

Week 4: Discussion of Plot in Memoir (or any genre)

Some business…

I’ve begun glancing through your critiques of each other’s work, and it’s really great to see how engaged everyone’s been! Yay! I’m seriously happy to see how open and honest y’all are.

I also noticed that not everyone used the template for their formal critiques of their Cohort’s work. No worries this round if you didn’t, but in the future, please use the template that can be found in the Course Profile (the link’s embedded here).

I’m going to talk specifically about plot this week, but if you’re unfamiliar with any of the other terms on the template (which we’ll cover as the semester progresses), email me or visit during an office hour and I can give you the short & sweet version!

This Sunday (9/13) your final draft of memoir 1 (“Meet My X”) is due. I’ve decided to have you post it on our site. I’ve created a new category under Student Work, so when you post your piece, save it under Student Work and Memoir. If you’re rusty on how to post, I’ve created a guide for how to post your memoir here.

Okay, let’s talk about PLOT.

Read the following quote:

The following is a story:

“The king died and then the queen died.”

And the following is a plot:

“The king died, and then the queen died of grief.”

E.M. Forster

So, think for a minute–what’s the difference between the two sentences?

The first line tells us the bare facts. With the first line, we don’t know when or in what state the queen was in. For all we know, the queen lived quite happily for 50 years before she died.

The second line tells us more–the state in which the queen died. Now we know they were very close. They were soul mates. The queen couldn’t adapt to life after the king’s death.

Simply put, plot is the sequence of events that make up the story. When you tell someone a story you often say: “X happened and Y happened, and then you’ll never guess what happened next!” Without realizing it, you are plotting your story.

All writers are conscious of plot, whether they’re writing a fantasy novel or a newspaper article. They are hyper-aware of the need to show that something happened because something else happened.


Typically a plot has three major parts—beginning, middle, and end

Each of these sections plays a specific role in the storytelling. There’s an old saying that in telling a story you should:

1) get your protagonist up in a tree,

2) throw rocks at your protagonist, and

3) get your protagonist down.

Consider the essay we just read. Spend some time reviewing the essay “Whatever Happened to ______” and note when/if the author follows the above formula.

Get Your Protagonist Up in a Tree aka the “Beginning”

What’s the context (year, location, and other important setting details) of the story?

What’s the inciting incident (action that gets things going) in the story?

Throw Rocks aka the “Middle”

What’s the rising action (events that lead to the climax) in the story?

Get Down aka the “End”

What’s the climax (the most exciting or intense moment) in the story?

What’s the resolution (the “wrap up”) of the story?

What does this mean for your writing?

Consider your “Meet My _____.” Does it have the three parts of plot? Does it set the reader up with all the information they need? Does it have some kind of “conflict”? (This doesn’t have to be a negative thing–think of “conflict” as what caused you to purchase the item, etc.) Does it have a conclusion that wraps up the story?

And now, part of the Assignment for Week 4 is to write a new memoir piece (more on that in the Assignment page). As you write/revise the piece, keep these things in mind.

Questions? Come visit me during my office hour on Friday (this Friday, my office hour is 11:30-12:30).


  1. Sarvinoz Erkinova

    So with plots, are there emotions and consequences of events and how they affected the characters? And with story you are just mentioning the facts without regardance to thoughts, feelings and emotions of charaters?

    • Saja Musa

      Does the resolution of the story have to be in the form of a solution to the problem or can it be a lesson/message the author wants the audience to take away?

      • Jessica Penner

        It can be either–it really depends on the genre and the author’s intention. Obviously the resolution we expect from, say, a newspaper article would be different than a novel.

    • Jessica Penner

      Oh, certainly the emotions and consequences are always factors in plot! I’d say stories have the same elements in them, but they might be hidden. For example, a person gets caught stealing a loaf of bread. They took a loaf, hid it, and a clerk saw them try to exit without paying. The plot gets in deep. Maybe this person didn’t have money and hadn’t eaten for days. Or this person had a mental illness. Etc.

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