What is plot?
Plot is what happens in your story. Plot is the way you organize the events that occur in the novel. Plot is your story line. Plot is the direction of a story’s main events and incidents and how they relate to one another.
Let’s start with thinking about plot as a simple sentence: The world’s heroes must learn to work as a team in order to battle their enemies (Super-basic plot of “The Avengers” movie).
Every action/scene/chapter that shows the heroes having to learn to work together and/or battling the enemy is part of the plot.
Example: Loki steals the Tesseract. Natasha retrieves Bruce Banner. Nick Fury recruits Captain America.
All these events move the story forward and are necessary to get to “The End.”
Let’s think about what’s not plot.
Example: Loki eats a sandwich and takes a shower and has a nap and then goes to the store to buy ice cream.
If Loki does things which don’t impact the outcome of the story in any way, and these actions don’t provide any information about character or anything else, and they don’t move the story forward, then they are not part of the plot.
(Of course, it is totally possible that Loki eating a sandwich could be part of the plot, provided the sandwich was perhaps the only thing that would bring Hulk to Nick Fury…but that’s a whole different show.)
So, what do you call that scene or chapter where Loki eats a sandwich which has no impact anywhere else in the story? It’s Schmerfoople (made up word—Thanks, Angie Hodapp). It’s sloppy scene craft, first-draft writing, loose writing, zero-tension writing, boring, tangential…
Or better yet, stop yourself from writing it before you spend days, weeks, years working on it.
If “The Avengers” actually had 15 minutes of Loki eating a sandwich, movie watchers would walk out of the theater because it is bad story telling. If you write 15 pages of your character eating a sandwich, readers will throw your book in the trash because It is bad story telling.
Plot is the things that characters do, or feel, or say, or think, that make a difference later in the story. If you are going to spend your time writing, make sure what you are writing has a plot so that it is not a pointless waist of time. Having a plot makes you a better storyteller. Be a better storyteller.