Last year, I went to a writer's conference and of course, I went to multiple sessions about story structure. I had the pleasure to meet Maxwell Alexander Drake, or as he prefers to be called Drake. He talked about Plot = Event ≠ Story. This statement makes sense right? Just because things are happening around, and to the main character, doesn't mean those events are impacting the theme of the story.
What does that really mean though? Let's look at two similar movies to show why Plot = Event ≠ Story is true. In Drake's book Dynamic Story Creation in Plain English, he uses Steven Spielberg's Jurrasic Park and Micheal Bay's Transformers movies to explain.
Transformers is an event-driven story. Hallmarks of event-driven stories rely on plot twists, external conflicts, and action. The core of Transformers revolved around the massive robot slugfests. Don't get me wrong, it was impressive to see those towering robots on the big screen and the audience couldn't wait for the machines to duke it out. The core of the story's theme was survival and the classic good-vs-evil. Entertaining, yes, yet I personally can't name a single human character's name years later. Why? Because while the events, AKA the fights, were eye-popping and riveting while watching the movie, I didn't connect to how the characters were shaped and changed internally by the forge of the storyline. The invisible theme didn't seem to go beyond basic live-or-die quest.
Okay, what about Jurrasic Park? It too is an event-driven story with the survival of the characters at its core. How is different from Transformers then? Its main theme dealt with the dangers of technology. The characters had to confront that theme in almost every scene to survive. In the end, they were all deeply changed, both internally and physically, by the journey to stay alive.
Both Steven and Micheal created two massive audience pleaser hits. They were crafted to elicit two different reasons to go and see each movie. To me, the deep level of theme in Jurrasic Park made it more memorable and stirring.
This simple equation of Plot = Event ≠ Story has sunk into my subconscious since I read it last November. Now as I watch or read stories, I weigh it in my mind and decipher if the events are only built on the physical layer or a vehicle for a larger theme.