You learn something new every day.
When I first became a writer (so, so many years ago,) I thought plot and story were the same thing, but just named differently. Sort of like trousers and pants. How naive I was. Turns out, they are two completely different things.
I know, right?
You need both plot and story in order to create a well rounded novel. You could have a great plot idea, but without the story behind it, it can be lifeless and dull. Just as you could have a great story idea, but without plot it will lack the tension and conflict you need.
Let me break it down for you.
The plot is a sequence of events. It answers ‘what happened?’ It is your protagonist’s physical journey. It is the dangers they face and the struggles they have to overcome.
The story is ‘why,’ your events happened. It is your protagonist’s emotional journey. Your characters dreams and growth and motivation. Their goals and their relationships.
‘The king died, and then the queen died.’ This is your plot.
‘The king died, and then the queen rose up to take revenge on the ones who killed him, dying in the process.’ This is your story.
A very wise beta reader recently told me that:
‘Books can be either character driven, plot driven, or a mix of both. But some stories do well if there’s just one, or a majority of one.’
You need both plot and story to create a novel, that much is true. But some novels work best when you focus more on story (eg, the Hunger Games,) and some work better if you focus more on plot (Harry Potter.) It depends on the overall tale you’re trying to tell and what you want the reader to walk away with.
Good thoughts and happy writing!