fabula is a term of narrative theory, which goes back to Viktor Borisovič Šklovskij and became popular by Boris Viktorovič Tomaševskij’s Theory of Literature (1925). As a fabula, the totality of the events of a narrative is described in its logical and temporal links, but not in the order as it is in the work (→ Sujet).
The meaning of the term, which is called fable in German, is somewhat confused. This is due to the fact that there are a lot of concept pairs that are almost cover-to-size with the fable and the subject. It is not to be confused with a story that is about fables and is also called a fable.
Note: In the following, we will discuss the conceptual pair fabula (fabula) and subject (sjužet), and distinguish it from other but very similar terms from the narrative theories. In this context, the difference between the terms should be pointed out and clarified by means of some examples.
Tomaševskij: fabula and sjužet
fabula and sjužet are concepts of Russian formalism. Both of my different levels of narrative. The fabula is the logical, temporal, and thus chronological sequence of the events, whereas the sjužet also means the totality of all events, but in the order in which they exist in the respective work (Fabel / Sujet).
It was Viktor Borisovič Šklovskij who made an artistic presentation and arrangement of the individual events under the term sjužet. He described as fabula the actual course of the events. The linguist Boris Viktorovič Tomaševskij used the concepts similarly and took them up in his work Theory of Literature (1925), which became canonical, which is why we rely on his definitions:
The totality of the events [in a narrated history] in their mutual inner linkage is also called a fable. […] It is not, however, done to invent an entertaining chain of events that is limited by the beginning and the end. It is necessary to distribute these events, to put them in a definite order, to present them, to make a literary combination of the fable material. The artistically constructed distribution of events in a work is called a subject.
The fable is the totality of the motifs in its logical, causal-temporal link, the subject the totality of the same motifs in the order and link in which they are present in the work. […]
Tomaševskij, Boris Viktorovič .: Fable and Sujet (1925)
This excerpt from Tomaševskij’s work is crucial and illustrates clearly what is at stake. The fabula is therefore a logical link between the individual events of a story. This means that we can think of the individual events on a time beam, in a temporal sequence. The subject now thinks that these events are artistically built.Fabula to Tomaševskij (English story):
All events and motifs in the causal-temporal, logical connection
independent and therefore autonomous from the respective way of representation
Sujet to Tomaševskij (English plot):
Motifs of the fable, however, in order and linkage, as given in the work
affects the respective way of representing a story
to this presentation include:
1. Structure of time as a sequence of events
2. Structure of space
3. Choice of the narrative perspective
Note: Several years later, in 1966, Tzvetan Todorov proposed the terms discours and histoire. These included in part ideas of fabula and sjužet, but they are not completely cover-wise.