Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot That Grips Readers from Start to Finish
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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 of 5 stars 4.09  ·  rating details  ·  2,434 ratings  ·  258 reviews
Craft an Engaging PlotHow 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...more
Paperback, First Edition, 234 pages
Published October 6th 2004 by Writer's Digest Books (first published September 22nd 2004)
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Mar 08, 2009 Heather rated it 3 of 5 stars
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...more
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...more
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...more
Parts of this book cover subjects covered better by Nancy Kress's Beginnings, Middles, and Ends. Also, this book gets somewhat repetitive around the middle.

However, the rest of it is great, and always inspiring. He never presents anything as a rule, and is always open to the possibility of ignoring his advice; he says even if you think purposeful plotting is stupid, it's good to at least know about it so you know why you're ignoring something. I like that attitude in people in general, and I agr...more
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
Kristie Cook
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....more
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...more
C.J. Cato
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...more
Greg Gountanis
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
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...more
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
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...more
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.
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...more
Randy Wise
Feb 24, 2011 Randy Wise rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
Kathy Davie
Nov 21, 2011 Kathy Davie rated it 5 of 5 stars
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...more
محمد الهاشمي
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
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...more
Beverly Diehl
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...more
Shaun Ryan
Great primer on the elements of plot and story structure that make fiction work, why they do, and how to implement them to the best advantage when telling your story.

Also includes exercises to get yourself in the habit of analyzing your story and identifying the strong points and weak spots, as well as many exerpts from works of fiction to illustrate the techniques being discussed.

Well written and organized, easy to follow, and offered with a satisfying dollop of humor, Bell's book is an inval...more
Plot & Structure is the kind of book you want to have on your shelf so you can refer to it when you need it. In fact, I don’t recommend what I did: check it out from the library and slog my way through it. (Don’t let “slog” fool you; it’s good information.)

If you want an analytical approach to plot and book structure, Plot & Structure (ahem, the title) is an excellent choice

Plot & Structure is best consumed, perhaps, after you’ve written your first draft and as you prepare for revisi...more
Actual Rating: 2.5

This is a very lopsided book. For those interested in writing commercial fiction (e.g. adult suspense/thriller novels), this might be the book for you, especially if you like to write in a formulaic manner. What does that entail? A lot of graphs and chart usage, such as having things happen at 10%, 20%, etc. within your story. In addition, within the first half of the book, the author has a tone that continually warns writers to NOT think out of the box, then in the second half...more
John Millikin
I've just finished this book, highlighted it to death, and am very pleased with what I learned from it. A lot of the material seemed like common sense, but it elaborated upon and reinforced that common sense which can so easily be overlooked when scribbling away in an unplanned fervour.

Many critiques of this book refer unhappily to the Dean Koontz and Stephen King examples which the author uses to emphasize his teachings. They claim, in essence, that these authors are not real writers. I've nev...more
Ronnie Darby
An excellent first book on writing. I purchased the Kindle edition.

I am using the PC Kindle reader. This reader is fantastic for learning from "how-to" books because you can do such things as bookmark, highlight, enter notes, and cut a rather large number of things from words to whole chapters so as to paste into working documents. Be warned, however, that the publisher imposes (a rather large) limit to the number of "copies" that can be made from a particular book.

Although I have completed read...more
Anna Serra i Vidal
Just for the chapter where it tells you different ways to come up with ideas, its worth it! It helped me spark my muse again, and hopefully it will help me keep it working.
I know I'll be reading it over and over, as many other craft books, until they sink into me and I am able to build something worthy.
Great book! For the most part, Bell touched on rules and technique that I had already heard of, but there were a few new tid bits--for example, "the intensity scale", and using 3x5 cards to study the plots of published novels. I'd recommend it to a novice writer who struggles with plot.
Colin Marks
Mar 28, 2012 Colin Marks rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Authors
I did love this book. I read it from cover to cover within a week of buying it, and am fairly certain I'll be returning to it again in the future. The chatty style is entertaining whilst carrying solid tips on how to develop plot lines that keep readers hooked. Highly recommend.
Miss Pickwickian
Anyone interested in writing anything should read this book!

I can not recommend it enough! It's a must read!!!!!

(To see more ideas and reviews by Miss Pickwickian )
This is a good, basic guide to have regarding plot. Don't expect much as everything seems to center around the ability of the book to sell, what the "reader" wants according to Bell. I certainly don't like to read books in the way writing is dissected in this book. However, there are great exercises at the end of the chapter and a general understanding of Plot that will inevitably be useful for any kind of writing. My personal belief is that the better you understand about your craft, the better...more
Anne Hamilton
A really quite superb book full of thought-provoking examples, go-get-'em idea and compelling extracts. An easy, accessible style makes this a joy to read.
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  • Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting Dynamic Characters and Effective Viewpoints
  • Dialogue: Techniques and exercises for crafting effective dialogue
  • Description & Setting
  • The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great
  • Scene and Structure (Elements of Fiction Writing)
  • Story Engineering: Character Development, Story Concept, Scene Construction
  • Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go
  • Techniques of the Selling Writer
  • Characters and Viewpoint (Elements of Fiction Writing)
  • Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time
  • The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master
  • Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success
  • GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction
  • 20 Master Plots: And How to Build Them
  • Description
  • Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn from Actors
  • Plot
  • Between the Lines: Master the Subtle Elements of Fiction Writing
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...
The Art of War for Writers Revision & Self-Editing: Techniques for Transforming Your First Draft Into a Finished Novel Presumed Guilty Write Your Novel From The Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone in Between Try Dying

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“In fact, one could argue that the skill of the fiction writer boils down to the ability to exploit intensity.” 7 likes
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