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Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot That Grips Readers from Start to Finish (Write Great Fiction)

4.09  ·  Rating Details  ·  3,322 Ratings  ·  325 Reviews
Craft an Engaging Plot

How does plot influence story structure? What's the difference between plotting for commercial and literary fiction? How do you revise a plot or structure that's gone off course?

With "Write Great Fiction: Plot & Structure," you'll discover the answers to these questions and more. Award-winning author James Scott Bell offers clear, concise informat
Paperback, First Edition, 234 pages
Published October 6th 2004 by Writer's Digest Books (first published September 22nd 2004)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Mar 08, 2009 Heather rated it liked it
Recommends it for: wrtiers who struggle with plot like myself
Recommended to Heather by: the library shelf
Shelves: writing-guidance
This is a great book to explain what you probably already knew about plot but you just need someone to smack you over the head with it so you can get it right for once.

My biggest compliment to this book is explaining plot in simple terms. And he actually does a good job. After reading this book, I was Coraline in theatres and was able to trace just about every element of plot as I watched the movie. Which is weird for me because I've never been able to do that before.

And you know what? It didn't
Jul 31, 2014 Scott rated it really liked it
A great resource if you aspire to be a writer of formulaic bestsellers. Less useful if you're looking to write misunderstood, avant-garde literary masterpieces. If you fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum, you will likely find the book useful in that it will teach you the formula so that you can use as much (or as little) of it as you would like.

It's also a very readable book, not as dry as some books on how to write.

Here are some of the highlights:

Successful books need four elements, a
Apr 08, 2012 James rated it it was ok
Are fictional novels this contrived, he wondered? I hope not, he answered himself, the pain racking his body like a gopher chewing at the roots of a wispy, young, comely pine, whose needles waft to their untimely death on the rotting forest floor. This is the quality of writing one might hope to achieve after reading "Writing Crappy", oh sorry, I mean "Writing Great Fiction."

This book is depressing. I have always thought great stories are spun in the imagination, not contrived on graph paper wit
If you're going to read a book about Plot and Structure, entitled, helpfully Plot and Structure, don't be shocked when the author spends most of his time discussing Plot and Structure. It may surprise you to learn that most commercial fiction is written to a tried-and-true formula that sells a shocking number of badly-written books. If you read a lot of commercial (I.e. genre) fiction, you should know this. If you don't you should know this. Either way it's terribly depressing, but James Scott B ...more
Nov 22, 2015 Donna rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I took a writing course this fall, and a fellow class member recommended this book by James Scott Bell. I appreciated the author's straight forward direction on the basic plot structure. It gave practical ideas mostly on the organization phase of certain plot elements, which is a problem I notice when reading. I tend to pay attention to the writing, sometimes even more than the story.

I also looked this author up on GR to see what his novels were rated and they had higher ratings. So now I need
Jonathan Peto
Mar 28, 2015 Jonathan Peto rated it really liked it
James Scott Bell’s approach is very welcoming, very encouraging. His introduction, for example, tries to put to rest the big lie, that writing can’t be taught. His chapter on generating plot ideas is absurdly obvious, yet also pleasing. If you doubt you can achieve an acceptable level of competency as a fiction writer, Bell may be able to prove you wrong, so if you have a story to tell, I believe this will help, most especially if you are somewhat a beginner.

I benefited for other reasons, I thin
Kristie Cook
Sep 26, 2011 Kristie Cook rated it it was amazing
If you're looking for a book that will teach you how to write better stories with multidimensional, memorable characters and believable and exciting dialogue, this book is not for you. It's not about the writing or the characters' quirks or the dialogue. This book is about the fundamental building blocks of storytelling - plot and structure.

Bell provides techniques that will help you build a solid foundation to your story, even if you're a pantser. Even if you've already written a draft or two.
Nov 05, 2009 Taka rated it it was amazing
Hats off to Mr. Bell--

Of all the books on writing I've read, this is by far the most helpful in terms of crafting one's story, whether it be a short story or a novel.

The most helpful part of it comes from its simple model of story: Lead, Objective, Confrontation, Knock-Out. True, this model has been expounded on by other books, like Robert McKee's Story, James Frey's How to Write a Damn Good Novel, and Jerry Cleaver's Immediate Fiction, but none of them broke it down to the right level of detail
Ruthie Jones
Jan 21, 2016 Ruthie Jones rated it it was amazing
Shelves: library-book
This informative book is inspiring. I'm a structured person by nature, but I definitely have a creative side. While many people pooh-pooh the idea of structured writing and *gasp* a formula, I think having a box full of tried and true tools is not only helpful but necessary. This book (and maybe all in this series) doesn't squash the creativity and inspiration that go along with writing a story.

The trick is to find a balance between the structure and the creativity because they can live together
Cora Foerstner
Nov 13, 2014 Cora Foerstner rated it it was amazing

Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot That Grips Readers from Start to Finish by James Scott Bell may be the best book for plotting and creating structure in fiction stories that I’ve read.

I have a few instructional writing books I reread; this is one of them.

Plot & Structure works for writers who don’t use outlines and for those who do. Throughout Bell acknowledges and addresses how his ideas about plot and structure can be used by all writers. This isn’t a “my
Charles Kato
Jul 05, 2010 Charles Kato rated it really liked it
Before taking a stab at my first real story I have decided to read two books on the art of writing fiction; "Techniques of the Selling Writer" by Dwight Swain, and the book I am reviewing now, "Plot and Structure" by James Bell. While Swain's book was more of an all inclusive manual on writing interesting fiction, Bell's book is focused strictly on, as the name suggests, plot and structure.

What this book is not... This is not a 'how to write a novel' book; if you are going to just read one book
Greg Gountanis
Feb 21, 2011 Greg Gountanis rated it really liked it
Most craft books on writing read like rehashes of articles taken from a magazine. They promote the same old, "write what you know," and the same old, "write everyday" routine. James Scott Bell's book on plotting is a bit different. Bell takes the aspiring writer from idea conception all the way to the completion of a manuscript. Bell's primary focus is in exhibiting to the writer the importance of the 3 act structure--the structure that holds true not only for films, but for novels as well.

Delaney Diamond
Feb 23, 2012 Delaney Diamond rated it it was amazing
I can't say enough good things about this book! I have so many sections highlighted and notes in the margin. I'm sure I'll be returning again and again to it to refresh my memory on how to write an engaging story.

I didn't pay much attention to the exercises, although I'm sure there are writers who will find them beneficial. I was more interested in the suggestions and truly practical approaches to writing.

The chapter on brainstorming was excellent. How to plan a story when you're not a plotter
Apr 28, 2013 Suzanne rated it it was amazing
I've binged on writing books in recent weeks and this is by far my favorite. It's not the first one to cover plotting and structure, but something about this one resonated with me more than the others.

It's partly Bell's voice that was so effective for me -- he's delightfully unassuming. He offers plotting systems for both outliners and non-outliners and leaves the whole process feeling very modular. It's easy to pick and choose and experiment with the systems he suggests. That sort of experimen
Jan 18, 2013 Elfscribe rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing
Lots of good, practical information. The approach is somewhat functional and formulaic, geared more towards commercial fiction: movie scripts or thrillers that employ the standard structure of taking an engaging lead character, giving him/her an objective, putting obstacles in her path, and ratcheting up the tension to an explosive finish. This is what the author characterizes as the LOCK approach: Lead, Objective, Confrontation (or conflict),and Knock-out. It is a tried and true storytelling ap ...more
Jun 16, 2011 John rated it it was ok
Shelves: creative-writing
A decent discussion of three act structure, but Bell peppers his prose with marketing/advertising cliches, such as various acronyms that promise the formula for a successful novel. One of them, ending with K, emphasizes the need for a "KNOCKOUT ending."

At various points in the book, he expresses contempt for the ambitions of any authors who would lean more to a poetic style, thus deviating from his formula. Good thing that neither Joyce nor Faulkner ran into him at an impressionable age.

Mr. Bel
Nov 26, 2008 Mephistia rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
The information in this book is assembled in an accessible, enjoyable format. Mr. Bell breaks up the chapters with suggested exercises for improving ones writing techniques, all of which are useful. The lessons themselves are conveyed in a friendly, conversational style, with anecdotes and personal examples. I chose this book as a supplementary guide in an Independent Study course, and recommend it as a useful, applicable work to any serious writer.
Apr 06, 2014 Sonya rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing-craft
James Scott Bell presents an excellent, thorough presentation of developing the plot and structure of a book. He gives tools to use that enable various writing styles and methods to 'fit' the principles of what works. He emphasizes action that brings the reader to be engrossed in the character's conflict.

He demonstrates how to hook the reader from the beginning.
Bell provides help for those struggling books that flounder in the middle.
He shows how to leave the reader satisfied at the end.

His met
Oct 23, 2015 Michael rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: how-to, writing, 2015
This has all the same principles I've read about in books on how to write a screenplay. It once again addresses the merging of art and commerce, a thing I've mentioned many times in my reviews. It's just a fact of the business.

If you write a character driven book, you're going to have a smaller audience than if you write an action based book. Don't be angry, just know that this is how it works, and make your decisions based on that knowledge.

I think you can use the plot elements in the action
Stephanie Swanbeck
Dec 30, 2015 Stephanie Swanbeck rated it it was amazing
Flawless and inspirational. A must -read for all fiction writers.
Una Tiers
Oct 24, 2014 Una Tiers rated it it was amazing
Lots of good material here, will need to read it again.
Randy Wise
Feb 24, 2011 Randy Wise rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: All fiction writers
Bell's book Plot & Structure is based on the premise that good writing can be learned, and is not necessarily confined to those who are born blessed with the ability. Bell calls this nature-only perspective as the Big Lie and proceeds to explain some tenets of great writing. In particular, Bell addresses the concepts of plot and novel structure. His approach follows what he calls the LOCK system (Lead, Objective, Confrontation and Knockout finish). Following the LOCK system, a novel should h ...more
Wendy Macdonald
Oct 22, 2015 Wendy Macdonald rated it it was amazing
Again I was not disappointed by the how-to help James Scott Bell gives. In Write Great Fiction - Plot and Structure he goes into enough detail to instruct without overwhelming the reader. As always his examples are attention holding and his sense of humor engaging. This is a must read for any style of writer as he respects that authors don't all plot to the same degree. I will be rereading this and putting his wise advice to work within my own manuscript planning.
Kathy Davie
Nov 21, 2011 Kathy Davie rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone interested in writing fiction
Excellent how-to manual on writing fictional novels.

My Take
Wow! Bell has created an amazing work that gets right down to business in explaining plot and structure for your novel. Without going into a great deal of theory, he provides the framework to get you started, keep you writing, and polish it up from soup to nuts with plenty of suggestions for hooking the reader, the need for (and the basics on how to create) the hero/heroine of the story and the requirements for their Opposition charact
C.J. Darlington
Feb 01, 2015 C.J. Darlington rated it it was amazing
This is probably my all-time favorite book on the craft of writing. I've read it and returned to it for advice many times. Not only about structure, it also gives great ideas for coming up with ideas, writing back cover copy, and keeping your writing muse well-fed. I will always keep this book in my library.
محمد الهاشمي
Feb 25, 2014 محمد الهاشمي rated it really liked it
كان مرجعا مفيدا لفهم ما يربط كل الروايات الناجحة من معادلات ومكونات للنجاح

لكن طبعا ذلك لا يعني أنك بقراءة الكتاب ستكتب رواية تفوز بنوبل، لكن الكتاب يقدم لك لمحة حول ما يجعل الرواية في الطريق الصحيح

الباقي بيد موهبتك
Jul 07, 2012 Miri rated it liked it
Shelves: writing
I would've liked this book more if not for the fact that it turned out to be completely centered on commercial fiction (thrillers, mysteries, etc.). Not only is that not what I'm interested in--and it wasn't specified on the back cover or anything--but I feel like people need less help plotting novels like that than novels that are more literary and character-driven.

Bell does include a few token examples from literary fiction--namely, Gone With the Wind and The Catcher in the Rye (nothing more r
Tina Hayes
Sep 29, 2014 Tina Hayes rated it really liked it
James Scott Bell's book about Plot & Structure is a good primer on writing skills. It holds valuable information for both new and seasoned writers, with a focus on the main goal of sitting down each day to put words on paper.

Mr. Bell includes chapters on character arc, beginnings, middles, and endings, discusses methods of plotting for both planners and pantsers, gives detailed instructions for writing a killer jacket blurb, and suggests ways to deal with common plot problems. My favorite p
Beverly Diehl
Jul 19, 2011 Beverly Diehl rated it really liked it
Really liked this book a lot, it contained invaluable tips and suggestions.

That said, the guy seems biased in certain directions. He deprecates explicit sex in romance as "done" and going out of fashion (really? fastest growing genre) and has a big man-crush on Dean Koontz and other thriller/mystery writers. That's his genre, so of course, he would latch onto that.

So if you write romance, erotica, or other genres like sci-fi, he has much material that will be very, very helpful, but doesn't delv
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  • Dialogue: Techniques and exercises for crafting effective dialogue
  • Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting Dynamic Characters and Effective Viewpoints
  • Description & Setting
  • The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great
  • Scene and Structure (Elements of Fiction Writing)
  • Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go
  • The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master
  • Story Engineering: Character Development, Story Concept, Scene Construction
  • Techniques of the Selling Writer
  • Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time
  • Characters and Viewpoint (Elements of Fiction Writing)
  • Plot
  • Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore
  • GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction
  • Bullies, Bastards & Bitches: How to Write the Bad Guys of Fiction
  • Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn from Actors
  • 20 Master Plots: And How to Build Them
  • Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success
Jim is a former trial lawyer who now writes and speaks full time. He is the bestselling author of Try Dying, No Legal Grounds, Presumed Guilty, Glimpses of Paradise, Breach of Promise and several other thrillers. He is a winner of the Christy Award for Excellence in Inspirational Fiction, and was a fiction columnist for Writers Digest magazine. He has written two books in the Writers' Digest serie ...more
More about James Scott Bell...

Other Books in the Series

Write Great Fiction (5 books)
  • Dialogue: Techniques and exercises for crafting effective dialogue
  • Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting Dynamic Characters and Effective Viewpoints
  • Description & Setting
  • Revision & Self-Editing: Techniques for Transforming Your First Draft Into a Finished Novel

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