Put simply, the plot is the sequence of events in a story. It includes what happens to the characters, what problems arise and how the problems are solved. When a student summarizes a story or play, it is the plot they are retelling. The main elements of a plot include the beginning, the rising action, the climax, the falling action and the resolution. The plot of a play or narrative does not necessarily go in chronological order, and may employ foreshadowing or flashbacks to tell the story.
The force driving forward a plot in both drama and narrative literature is the cast of characters. Characters tend to face conflicts -- with themselves, with other characters and with an external force, such as nature or God. These conflicts reveal the characters' values, strengths and weaknesses. Often in plays and stories, characters develop and change from beginning to end. For example, the psychological and emotional state of Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams' play "A Streetcar Named Desire" grows increasingly unstable as the play progresses.
The location, time and social environment of a play or story is called the setting. In a play, the setting is often presented as a narrative introduction before the start of action. In a story, the setting can be introduced in the beginning or it can be interwoven throughout the plot. Both the presence and absence of a setting can affect the message being conveyed. For example, Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery" deliberately avoids providing a geographical or temporal setting, which makes the barbaric tradition in the story more universal to readers.
All genres of literature contain themes that can be interpreted through literary devices, characters, tone, plot and title. Ferrum College notes that themes are "the central ideas, values, thesis, message, or meaning presented in a work of literature." Common themes in plays, stories and novels include loss of innocence, love and friendship, grief and mourning, revenge, madness and resilience. When writing about themes, students should draw connections between how themes are manifested in the text and how they are manifested in the real world.