Plot by Ansen Dibell


And then what happened? Whenever you hear a story, that’s what you want to know. Plot is the most fundamental of story elements, and the one that is taken for granted. After all, if nothing happens, there is no story. At first glance, an entire book about plot may seem like overkill. But plot isn’t simple. If it were, there wouldn’t be so many half-finished novels abandoned in desk drawers. Anyone who has struggled with sagging middles, ho-hum endings or characters who just won’t behave will appreciate Dibell’s advice.

Most writers who need help with plot turn to books on screenwriting. If there’s one thing Hollywood knows, it’s how to structure a story. Screenwriting books are awesome (see SAVE THE CAT), but do not discuss things like point of view or exposition. Dibell devotes entire chapters to them. There are also chapters on writing dramatic openings, handling subplots, and harnessing melodrama. Need help with pacing, transitions, or endings? There are chapters on those, too.

Dibell writes in a smooth, engaging style. She covers each topic thoroughly without ever belaboring a point. Her language is simple, her examples broad, making this the ideal reference for beginning writers. This is not to say PLOT is a dry book. Dibell has considerable wit, and anyone who illustrates her point with examples from THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK is okay by me. She gives equal weight to literary fiction with an in-depth discussion of THE LORD OF THE FLIES.

What I appreciate most about PLOT is that it’s so concrete. Instead of nebulous words or airy platitudes, Dibell gives practical instruction. She shows exactly what works and how. If you follow her advice, the scaffolding of your story will hold up the entire narrative. Most importantly, the reader will never know the scaffolding is there.

I’ve read hundreds of how-to books, but I’m glad I found this one early in my career. I’m sure it shortened my learning curve. For example, Dibell’s advice on exposition was eye-opening. “The first, most important part of handling exposition is realizing it’s going to need handling. Once you’re aware of that, you won’t be as easily tempted to break off in the middle of an opening or a crisis to treat the reader to a completely unnecessary lecture….Second, readers are only interested in explanation after their curiosity has already been aroused by something in need of explaining.” These three sentences probably saved me years of rejections because I bypassed the newbie tendency to front-load my stories with backstory and infodumps.

PLOT has found a permanent home on my keeper shelf. As useful as it was when I was starting out, it’s also one I keep returning to. The mechanics of building a good plot don’t change, and when I need a refresher, PLOT is the first book I reach for.


this book is best for beginning to intermediate writers


I recommend this book.


rating: 5 stars

3 thoughts on “Plot by Ansen Dibell

  1. I am giving you a happy solstice wish. I know I put a writing book on my wish list at Amazon from a recommendation I picked up from Nancy Pickard. But when I went back to look for it to mention it here, it had been removed and unavailable.

    • Thanks for the comment, Shannon. I hope the book you want is unavailable on your wish list because someone bought you the book for a gift.

  2. Wow! I can’t believe that I don’t have this book! I’m going to admit something: I’m pretty sure that I’ve seen this book and decided not to buy it because I didn’t like the cover! (I hate mazes and that game in which you have to navigate the ball through the maze and… it’s a long story!)

    Great review!

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