Syuzhet & Fabula

Oh theoretical terms, you well-defined yet completely nebulous pain in the neck. Couldn't you at least be loaned from a language I understand, like French or English? But don't worry, this article isn't a lesson in Russian Formalism.

Instead, it is more of a reminder for anyone who considers themselves a weaver of the fine fabric called stories. The whole planning thing? That part of the process which isn't euphorically slamming your heart against your keyboard? Yeah. There's more to it than one might think.

The distinction between syuzhet and fabula is purely formal on the reader's side of the deal. The fabula is the chronological sequence of events which constitute your story. The syuzhet is how the events are presented, which does neither have to be in the order nor to the extent in which they are theoretically existent in the fabula (aka your head). The fabula ist that which the reader reconstructs from the syuzhet. And now, in order to increase tangibility two hundred percent: In neoformalism, fabula is called story and syuzhet is called plot.

Plot is the presentation of story and hence the object of storytelling. And storytelling, as we all know, can be anything but linear. So if you have your story down, you need to think of a plot. The magic words which bring them together are information management. Of course, you could just tell your reader everything that happens one titbit at a time, but what is more interesting: Tim got up in the morning. There wasn't any cereal left, so he went out to get some. On his way to the store, he was hit by a car and died. OR Tim couldn't believe he was dying because of cereal. He should never have left the house.

Or in the words of the fabulous Chuck Wendig


I prefer the mountain path metaphor as a path can curl. An arrow seldom does. The big difference is: The reader merely walks the path. The writer has to hew it into the naked rock with his bleeding bare hands.


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