For a story to have a plot it has to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. That seems fairly obvious, but it took the philosopher Aristotle to point it out. He called the plot the mythos, the word from which we get the word myth.
For a writing activity, students of all ages can use the worksheet “Something Is Happening Here” to compose a very short story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. They examine Paul Manship’s small sculpture Running Atalanta. Their stories are based on what they imagine is happening in the sculpture. Following prompts, they introduce Atalanta, they put her into a conflict, and they give her story a conclusion. Afterwards, they read a version of the myth to see how their stories compare.
For an art activity, read the story of Atalanta. Ask students to draw a scene from the story. Then reveal the picture of Paul Manship’s sculpture. Did students depict the same event in their pictures? Do they think it is the most important event in the story? Is it the event that best tells the story in an artwork?
For Aristotle, the events of a good plot unfold “because of” the previous events, rather than merely “after” the previous events. It is a matter of cause and effect.
“I went to the store the other day. I bought apples. In the checkout line, I realized that I needed gum.” That is a story of sorts, but it doesn’t have much of a plot. And it isn’t very exciting either.
In the beginning of a plot, we meet characters at a certain point in their lives. In the middle, we usually see them in some kind of conflict that results from their situation. In the end, we see the results of the conflict: how the characters have been changed, or why they have not changed. Conflict is traditionally categorized as man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. society, and man vs. himself.
Ask students to visit the Smithsonian American Art Museum website, where they can learn more about the artist who created Running Atalanta. There is a place where they can post comments on the artwork.
Just for Fun
Download and print the activity sheet, Ready, Set, Go! that compares Atalanta with animals and inventions that claimed the title of “fastest of their kind.”