Fabula and Sjuzet
The concepts ‘Fabula’ and ‘Sjuzjet’ are drawn by Russian Formalism to explain the difference between a story and its plot i.e. between the story told (fabula) and the imaginative way in which that story is actually narrated (sjužet).
As Victor Erlich observes in his definitive account of the movement, Russian Formalism (1955), the basic story of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (1869) is fairly meager-reduced to its barebones it is a melodramatic account of a young woman who falls in love with an unworthy man and is driven to suicide-but that gives no indication of the richness of the telling of the story, which in the view of many (not least the author himself) places the novel high up in the pantheon of all-time greats. The distinction is especially useful for thinking about crime fiction, which relies for its effect on the disjunction between the events as they must have happened (fabula) and the order in which they are discovered or narrated (sjužet).
The ‘fabula’ refers to the chronological order in which the events of a story take place: the timeline, in other words. The ‘sjužet’ refers to the sequence in which the author chooses to relate those events, which we could describe as the storyline or the plot. In the film Citizen Kane, for example, the ‘fabula’ is the story of Kane’s life, from birth to death. The sjužet, on the other hand, starts with Kane’s death and continues as the story of a journalist investigating Kane’s life, interspersed with a series of flashbacks. By using this device the screenplay introduces a degree of mystery and tension that would otherwise be absent.
The fabula is a chronological telling of all the events that might be relevant to the story; on the other hand, the sjužett is a creation of the author, who can pick and chose and rearrange
The Russian Formalists tended to regard such disjunctions as a measure of a particular work’s literariness.
Also Read: Tragic Plot according to Aristotle