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Scene & Structure

(Elements of Fiction Writing)

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  1,369 ratings  ·  120 reviews
Craft your fiction with scene-by-scene flow, logic and readability. An imprisoned man receives an unexpected caller, after which "everything changed..."

And the reader is hooked. But whether or not readers will stay on for the entire wild ride will depend on how well the writer structures the story, scene by scene.

This book is your game plan for success. Using dozens of exa
Paperback, 168 pages
Published March 15th 1999 by Writer's Digest Books (first published 1993)
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Average rating 4.10  · 
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 ·  1,369 ratings  ·  120 reviews

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Jul 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There are several good reviews already, so I will highlight some of the key components of the book. We learn about the story question, about cause and effect, and about stimulus and response. Next, we learn scene and sequel structural components. Scene classic structural components are goal, conflict and diaster. The classic structural components of sequel are emotion, thought, decision and action. We next tackle variations in scene, common errors in scene and how to fix them, and plotting with ...more
Jonathan Peto
Mar 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Hear ye, hear ye: I am rereading marked passages from previously read writing books right now and writing reviews, in some cases, such as now, for the first time. I admit, I may not have reviewed this one before in a selfish, misguided attempt to keep the book a secret. I apologize. It’s a gem, one of my very, very favorite writing books.

It’s nuts & bolts, baby, published in 1993, and written by an author whose 80+ novels are completely unknown to me. Furthermore, I have no intention of making r
K.M. Weiland
Aug 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
The reading makes for tough and tedious going at some points, but the info is well worth the dig. This is the perfect follow-up to Swain’s classic Techniques of the Selling Author (which makes sense, since Bickham was Swain’s student). It does a marvelous job of expounding on Swain’s “scenes” and “sequels” and answering many of the holes left in Swain’s necessarily abbreviated crash course. The section on structure, however, leaves much to be desired. Instead of any solid advice, the author offe ...more
Oct 13, 2020 rated it liked it
A useful book that really filled the gaps in my knowledge of scenes and sequels. It suffers, as many similar books do, by the inclusion of the author's own published work as examples.

I don't know if it is that a scene always suffers by removing it from the context of the novel, or if it is just a matter of "those who can't write well, teach," but the book would have benefited from more well-known and compellingly-written examples. His passages do work to illustrate the principles he's teaching,
Jan 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020, non-fiction
One of the best intermediate/advanced fiction writing books I've ever read.
Lynne Stevie
Mar 21, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone who wants to write fiction
Recommended to Lynne by: A Critic
I'm about halfway through and it is already a valuable tool. It really deals with the structure of a good story and how to push and pull the reader through without letting them get bored. I find myself getting stuck in the scenes and not looking at the big picture. This will help me create goals in the beginning so my characters will hopefully have focus and purpose. I would recommend to anyone wanting to write fiction. This book was recommeded to me by a critic who read an excerpt of my work in ...more
This is a classic book on writing technique, focussed on writing one particular kind of book. I'd call that kind of book "action-oriented popular fiction" - basically a thriller or suspense novel. That's not to say that the techniques aren't useful for writing other kinds of books, but the less your book is like a thriller, the less useful the advice will be.

I've shared extensive notes on Google+ under the hashtag "#sceneandstructure", so I won't repeat them here. However, in broad outline, Bic
Anna Erishkigal
Aug 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
I purchased this book 'used' as Writer's Digest has replaced it with a different book, but a friend recommended it to help me iron out some bugaboos in my writing. Unlike the newer book, the prose is denser and a bit more difficult to digest, but as my friend had promised, this older version of scene-writing was filled with lots of examples where the concepts are broken down in detail, tagged, and clearly labeled as you try to put the concepts in the book into action. It is structured like a col ...more
Oct 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Great stuff here. Bickham takes the scene/sequel concept and goes into great detail on why and how to use it, how to subvert it, how to change things up when pace or plotting requires it, and so on.

I had never fully understood the scene/sequel concept before reading this, and reading it, I underwent something of a mental shift around the concept. I think I've been inadvertently doing this wrong in a lot of my previous short stories and novel attempts, and even if I don't implement Bickham's meth
Steve Goodyear
May 13, 2013 rated it it was ok
It gave me some good tips and ideas, but the read really didn't inspire me. I found it trying to be a little too prescriptive and formulaic for my tastes, and I think I would've had more confidence as a reader if the analysis was applied to a classic at times rather than a piece author's unpublished work.
Kym McNabney
May 23, 2012 rated it liked it
I purchased this book on a recommendation. I did get quite a bit from it though I have to admit I had a hard time following it in many parts. The information was a bit confusing at times. I guess if one can get even one thing from a non-fiction read, it was worth reading.

I did enjoy reading some of the segments of the author's novels. One particular book intrigued me enough to check out the author on the web. I was surprised to find out he wrote over 75 books, and is the author of a childhood mo
Carrie Daws
Aug 18, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: writing
I'll start by saying that this book has a lot of value. But ... it reads like a college textbook and overwhelmed me with information and explanation. I did mark some good tidbits, but overall, I found myself skimming because I felt like the author had already made his point and I didn't need him to continue.
Lynn Hobbs
Apr 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Appreciate the authors ideas! Most helpful! I highly recommend this book and will list this as the number one writing "how to" book needed by each author! Well written and well received! :)
Allan Walsh
Jun 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Scene and Structure by Jack M. Bickham is a non-fiction title for writers, covering proven techniques used to write a compelling story.

The Cover: The cover works well for this title. The image reflects a non-fiction book and the title links it to the craft of writing.

The Good Stuff: At my stage as a writer, when I read books on the craft of writing I often find that there is very little to be learned from the content. This book was very different. It could be that I have not delved deeply enoug
Tanya Gold
Clear instructions on how to use the scene/sequel and stimulus/response structures in novel writing.
James Yu
Mar 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I found this book quite useful as a novice fiction writer.

Other books tend to take a top down approach to crafting a novel. This book takes a bottoms up approach, which really helped to fill in some of my knowledge gaps. Bickham talks about how to construct a beat within a scene, and ultimately how to create scenes that have good forward momentum. The foundation of stimulus-internalization-reaction and scene-sequel was enlightening to me, as it is the structure that most readers subconsciously c
Eric Juneau
Nov 22, 2010 rated it did not like it
This book is twenty years old and it's showing its age. Bickham spends a large portion of the message dedicated to slowing a story down. I've never heard of doing that. That's not a problem these days.

This is a good book for those people who have read other books on writing, and are looking for more advanced techniques or more specific approaches. More than the simple "show, don't tell" and "don't use adverbs". This books takes more detail into the "kill your darlings" message and how to struct
K.R. Patterson
Mar 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Definitely one of the best writing books I've read. At first I was thinking it was going to be a knock-off of Dwight Swain's, and it was a lot like his, but this one actually helped me understand so much more than Dwight's. Though I believe Dwight did communicate these same things, it was just that presented this way--a slightly different way--it all became so much more clear. I especially loved the end, when it gives an example plot outline. LOVED that! I've always wanted someone to do that. Th ...more
Nov 17, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: writing
This book provides some nice insights on popular writing; but author Jack M. Bickham tries to boil everything down into simple formulas, and I hate formulas--which is probably why I never passed Statistics in college. There's not a whole lot that Bickham says here that you couldn't get from just picking up any best-selling novel at random and studying the author's use of structure on your own.
Oct 23, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library, 2015
Once again, I found the book formulaic and unhelpful. Bickham makes it sound like plotting your book is a series of careful decisions, made one at a time. Plotting a book is generally a much messier thing (and for me, is often more of an intuitive thing). This book might have limited use in the revision process, but I only found it helpful in clarifying my thoughts against Bickham.
Jennifer Shirk
Jan 30, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: writing-craft
This book has a lot of good, useful information, especially chapter ten: common errors in scenes and how to fix them. But the book was a bit dry in parts so it took me awhile to read.
Jennifer Louden
dated at times, hard to get into (hence why on my shelves for so long) but super useful, esp. for thriller and action /adventure novelists.
Lewis Weinstein
Mar 12, 2012 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing
Another excellent source to stimulate better writing.
Joanie Bruce
This is a great book for seasoned authors as well as beginners. It really teaches you to make sure you have a reaction to everything in your story. It's also a great tool for building your plot.
Alison McMahan
Dec 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Includes the clearest explanation of MRU violations (motivation reaction units) since Dwight V. Swain himself, along with an inspiring explanation of scene & sequel. A must for every fiction writer. ...more
C.H. Knyght
Sep 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Dang, it's been a long time since I read this, but it was one of the foundation block to my journey as an author.
Brett Williams
Apr 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
Having read this years ago, it remains an excellent reference. As one in the Elements Of Writing series, Brickham does a very good and thorough job of showing why structure matters and how to use it to your advantage. Of course the main point of it all is to keep the reader engaged and tell a good story. One does this by tailoring the tale to human psychology (at least modern reader psychology). He says readers are fascinated and threatened by significant change; they want a story to start with ...more
Mar 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
This book breaks down the fundamental units of storytelling pacing—scene and sequel—and presents them in an easily understandable manner. Writers who want to improve the flow of their writing will find Bickham’s advice useful, however, the information is far more expansive than this.

Scenes and sequels keep the story moving in an efficient and effective way. Using these to their best advantage helps maintain reader attention by alternating between action and reflection. Scene and sequel take on d
Turok Tucker
Mar 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Two takeaways up to the point: there are lots of books on plot, few on the actual construction of how to make said plot. For every 15 books that muse, there's one that treats you like a person with a job trying to grow your knowledge. Thank God this is the latter, and in an absolute zero frills method SCENE & STRUCTURE gives a writer learning the craft of writing a great scene some meat and potatoes.

I was feeling SOL before this book in getting a good grasp on the dramatic unit - brick in the wa
Apr 15, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: writing
The basic concept it focuses on is "cause and effect".

Make sure everything in your plot follows logically from previous elements.

Build your story and your scenes step by step. i.e. make sure there is a goal for each scene, and that that goal advances the goal of the chapter which in turn advances the goal of the entire story, etc.

This is good advice, and eye-opening if you didn't consider how to structure a scene before, but it quickly gets extremely tedious once he gets into the details.

Now, I
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Elements of Fiction Writing (1 - 10 of 11 books)
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  • Characters and Viewpoint (Elements of Fiction Writing)
  • Conflict, Action and Suspense (Elements of Fiction Writing)
  • Description
  • Dialogue (Elements of Fiction Writing)
  • Manuscript Submission
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  • Setting: How to Create and Sustain a Sharp Sense of Time and Place in Your Fiction
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“For maximum effectiveness, you should start your story at the time of the change that threatens your major character’s self-concept.” 0 likes
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