Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell

James Scott Bell says that writers are made, not born. I believe him. Anyone can learn to write and all writers get better over time. Yet, what seems to vex all writers is the most basic element of storytelling–plot. Writers naturally think in scenes, but putting them together into an exciting novel seems like an impossible jigsaw puzzle with too many pieces.

It doesn’t have to be.

Bell helps writers think in terms of structure, building the story with solid scenes that go together in a logical order. PLOT AND STRUCTURE is written in easy-to-grasp language, free of jargon. Bell doesn’t need to invent a whole new vocabulary just to make his point. Story structure is pretty straightforward and Bell never pretends it isn’t.

PLOT AND STRUCTURE starts with a basic overview, followed by detailed chapters on beginnings, middles, and ends. Each part of a novel has a specific job to do, and Bell details how to hook readers, elevate the stakes, stretch the tension, and satisfy reader expectations. He then goes into specifics of scenes and the character arc. Readers might feel overwhelmed at this point, but Bell comes to the rescue with outlining systems. He even includes pointers for people who write by the seat of their pants. He ends with a few thoughts on revision and some advice about what to do when plots go wrong.

I’ve read a lot of books about plot, but this one stays on my keeper shelf. I like the way Bell celebrates (rather than looks down upon) genre fiction. I also like his use of concrete examples and specific details. And while he acknowledges that every writer–and every novel–is different, he clearly shows that certain scenes in a certain order make for a more enjoyable book.

Each chapter ends with exercises. I’m not much for these things, but I understand that some people like them. The exercises are neither easy nor quick, but if a writer makes the time to do them, they will pay off. I’m especially fond of Bell’s suggestion to outline another writer’s book. He actually suggests you outline six of them. I’ve done this, and can guarantee that this hands-on approach will teach a writer more than any amount of theory ever could.

Bell glosses over the way that character and plot work together. However, most writers either already know that or are already so deep into their characters that they’ve lost sight of their plot. PLOT AND STRUCTURE is just the thing a writer needs to get her story moving forward.

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rating: 4 stars

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pie slices: 8 slices craft

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This book is best for: beginning to intermediate writers

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I recommend this book.

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