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Write Great Fiction

Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot That Grips Readers from Start to Finish

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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 information that will help you create a believable and memorable plot, including: Techniques for crafting strong beginnings, middles, and endsEasy-to-understand plotting diagrams and chartsBrainstorming techniques for original plot ideasThought-provoking exercises at the end of each chapterStory structure models and methods for all genresTips and tools for correcting common plot problems

Filled with plot examples from popular novels, comprehensive checklists, and practical hands-on guidance, "Write Great Fiction: Plot & Structure" gives you the skills you need to approach plot and structure like an experienced pro.

240 pages, Paperback

First published September 22, 2004

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About the author

James Scott Bell

125 books911 followers
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 series, Write Great Fiction: Plot & Structure and Revision & Self-Editing.

Jim has taught writing at Pepperdine University and numerous writers conferences. He attended the University of California, Santa Barbara where he studied writing with Raymond Carver.

* Shannon Saga (with Tracie Peterson)
* The Trials of Kit Shannon
* Ty Buchanan

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 548 reviews
Profile Image for Jason Koivu.
Author 7 books1,230 followers
April 30, 2018
The best book on how to write genre fiction I've ever read! Novelist and screenplay writer James Scott Bell has won awards for inspirational fiction. I say he deserves awards for inspirational non-fiction! So many of his books are how-to-write guides and even if only a small portion of them are as helpful as this one, he's a bloody writing guru!

Plot & Structure is part of the Writers' Digest series, Write Great Fiction. Most writers are quite aware of Writers' Digest. Before the internet, WD published the would-be author's bible, Writer's Market, an annual tome of articles with tips and contact information on publishers and agents. I gleaned some helpful lessons from the occasional Writer's Market I'd buy or borrow over the years, about as much as I'd get from reading books about writing from established writers like Stephen King or Ray Bradbury. "Just write" was and still is the most boiled down, golden rule essence of what 99.9% of them will tell you.

Bell's book goes well beyond that. Not only does it give advice like the above, it gives practical assistance, step-by-step instruction on how to put a readable, or even captivating novel together.

As stated above, this is best for genre writers, those who pen thrillers, mysteries, fantasy, sci-fi, romance, and what all else where a model has clearly been established over the last century's worth of published work. But that doesn't mean literary writers won't benefit from this. Bell does his best to explain how the different aspects that make up a fine novel are nearly interchangeable. That intriguing character who meanders about in your favorite lit fic would be just as at home and welcome in chick lit. Just as the rigid three act in the countless mysteries that have downed many a tree over the years is often and surprisingly floating about behind the scenes of that supposedly inventive work of genius.

What is plot? How does it work? How do you come up with plot ideas? What is plot up to during the different stages of a book? How does the character arc unfold over a plot? These questions and more are not only answered, but many an example is given...and not only that, but helpful systems for coming up with your own answers are laid out. Recognizable patterns are discussed. Writing and revising techniques are detailed. Tips and tools are readily dispensed like candy to children on a successful Halloween outing.

This is my second time through Plot and Structure and it won't be my last. This is the sort of book that writers should read intermittently until all aspects are down pat. Read this and use the wealth of helpful advice, tips and techniques and you should be able to pump out as good or better a book than much of what's being put out these days.
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 6 books1,769 followers
June 1, 2019
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 Bell is so irrepressibly cheerful that by page 59, you are ready to become the next Dean Kontz, whom Bell loves and cites frequently.

That was just my PSA for people who have read this and are dismayed to find that authors write to a formula, or that Bell spends most of his time focused on commercial fiction, where Plot and Structure are the Alpha and Omega.

Me, personally, I don't read much commercial fiction because so much of the writing is crap and I hate formulaic plots. BUT I still want good STORY. I want to be taken to new places emotionally, metaphorically, intellectually. I want to be changed and challenged. As a writer, I want to offer that to my readers. And frankly, I want to write books that are commercially appealing, but intellectually satisfying. I don't want to change anybody's world, but I wouldn't mind changing their weekend.

So, I'm glad for James Scott Bell's book. There is heaps of practical, checklist type information here. Not about writing but about process. A way to get back on track when you get bogged down by your own passion and brilliant ideas. Much of this is Fiction 101, but it never hurts to get back to the basics when you are breathless with possibility.
Profile Image for Heather.
308 reviews3 followers
March 8, 2009
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 ruin the movie to know how and why the plot worked. I've heard many writers/teachers say things about how plotting is obsolete and pointless. How plotting makes your stories too conventional and predictable. I completely disagree and I think this book supports me.

My one complaint is how commercial the author makes writing sound. I write because I love stories and maybe I will get published one day and have to worry about how I'm going to sell enough books to buy groceries. Luckily, that is not a problem for me right now. Right now, I just want to write and write well.

So, as long as you don't get annoyed with the author's commercialism, this is a great reference for any budding writer.

297 reviews3 followers
July 31, 2014
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, abbreviated LOCK:

Lead--a strong, interesting lead character
Objective--the lead character's goal, either gaining something or escaping from something
Conflict (because there wouldn't be a story unless something was standing between Lead and Objective
Knockout--an ending with strong emotional impact, usually with a winner and loser

Most plots can be divided into three acts. The first act ends when the lead character reaches a "point of no return" and can no longer simply walk away; the second act ends with a clue, setback, or other event that will lead to the climax in Act 3.

If these seem like things you would like to learn more about, then you will likely appreciate this book. If this all seems a little trite, then you can probably skip it.
Profile Image for Farhang Nazaridoost.
Author 3 books67 followers
August 8, 2019
به نظرم نه‌تنها نویسنده‌ها بلکه اون دسته‌ از خواننده‌هایی که سفت و سخت دنبال نقد کردن رمان‌هایی که می‌خونن هستند هم می‌تونند این کتاب رو بخونند پس دیگه خوندنش برای نویسنده‌ها تو هر قالب و ژانری که می‌نویسن واجبه.
فقط اینکه چون اواخر کار خیلی طولانی شده بود احساس می‌کردم دارم درس می‌خونم و این یه ذره خسته‌ام کرد.
Profile Image for Lewis Weinstein.
Author 9 books496 followers
Want to read
June 13, 2017
Can't hurt, from time to time, to think again about things I should already know, but maybe don't.

In 10 minutes ... I've decided to write a character essay for both Berthold and Anna. Where did they start? How have they changed? What caused the changes? Were there surprises? ... and then, looking forward, how do I currently think they will change from 1936 on? What will cause these changes? What surprises yet lie ahead? I have of course thought about these things, but I have not written them down.

So I got my money's worth from Mr. Bell. Another 10 minutes tomorrow?
Profile Image for Ahmed  Ejaz.
549 reviews325 followers
March 11, 2017
4.75 Stars
I have no words to describe this book. It is one of the best book I ever read. It makes me feel like, "Nobody born a writer, everybody can write". The only thing there is need of Tips, Techniques and Confidence; which this book have.

- In the beginning, this book clears out every lie which we have been hearing since from the beginning of our first day like; "Writing could not be taught, Writers are born."

It tells us the following:
- The meaning of plot and structure.
- How to generate plot ideas.
- How to hook the reader from the first chapter.
- How to make strong; Beginnings, Middle and Endings
- What are the plotting systems available for writers
- Common plot mistakes which nowadays newbie writers make and their cures.

It gives us examples from the famous authors'(mostly Dean Koontz, Stephen King i think ) works. It tells us how other writers do things to make a good novel.

Honestly I like Every bit of this book but there is one thing I think should be less: examples, examples and examples.
It's good this book contains examples but some places there are more examples then topic-related-material.
I think examples should be less because it (sometimes) makes us forget what the topic is really about.

This book is for those who are thinking about writing a book but don't know where to start. This is very good and easy approach to start learning about writing a good and compelling novel.

I hope guys you like my review, if you don't then point out my mistakes in the comment below.

NOTE: The review mentioned above is my personal feelings which I felt while and after reading the book.

Thanks for your attention.
Profile Image for posthuman.
64 reviews105 followers
January 26, 2020
Over the years, I've read hundreds of books about writing and this has been one of the most helpful.
Profile Image for John.
164 reviews3 followers
June 16, 2011
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. Bell doesn't give the impression of being very well read. He repeatedly refers to Dean R. Koontz as "the master," and most of his example passages come from genre (suspense, horror, psy-fi) fiction. The only example of "literary fiction" (yes, he would also like to sell his books to those who aspire to literary fiction) is a passage that was so maudlin, so cloyingly sentimental, that it could form the basis of a Hallmark Hall of Fame, TV movie. The selection of that particular passage told me everything about his contempt for non-genre writing.
Profile Image for David.
154 reviews58 followers
September 5, 2015
Sometimes I hate myself and my need to finish reading anything I start, no matter how boring or how terrible it is. This book is the absolute worst example of this.

My experience with this book was akin to being told some mildly useful advice by someone you can’t stand, find painfully boring, and have trouble taking seriously. There is a lot of good, if basic, information here, but it’s a boring and sterile read that makes writing seem soulless and mechanical; and I find it hard to look past James Scott Bell’s taste in literature. Most of his examples are from James Patterson and Dean Koontz, both of whom Bell seems to have a huge thing for.

Perhaps there’s an argument to be made for the fact that both of them are best sellers, but you know who else is a best seller? Stephenie Meyer. Best seller does not a good writer make, and while I haven’t read enough of either author to say that what they write is garbage (even though it totally is), I think I can say that using them as examples of great writing, in a book about writing, was a questionable move at best. Anyone planning on reading this would be much better served by picking up Begnnings, Middles, & Ends by Nancy Kress. It essentially covers the same territory but, unlike this piece of trash, is one of the best books on writing that has ever been written.

So long James Scott Bell. I won’t be reading any more books by you. Especially since I did a little research and found out that, besides books about writing, literally all you write is crime thrillers full of Christian propaganda and I threw up in my mouth a little bit. I wish I could say it was fun while it lasted, but it was hell.
Profile Image for Kristie Cook.
Author 76 books1,178 followers
September 27, 2011
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. Although his ideas apply best to commercial fiction, they can be useful in literary fiction, as well. If you don't like his examples, you can still learn from his methods. Whether you need a start with outlining or have one specific plotting issue, you'll find something useful.

Read it cover to cover or pick out the parts you know you need to improve. You're not in school where you have to do it the teacher's way or fail. With any craft book, take what you like. Leave the rest. But it's never a bad thing to open your mind to new ways. You never know what golden nugget you just might find that will make all the difference in the world to your story.
Profile Image for Jonathan Peto.
252 reviews46 followers
March 28, 2015
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 think, even the first time I read it, but I have also revisited Plot & Structure a few times over the years because it compliments what I learned in Scene and Structure, a book I highly recommend.

However, Plot & Structure does not just fill in holes. Scene & Structure explains structure in microcosm and macrocosm (the level of the scene) very well, but Bell excels with a better, or at least more memorable, explanation of what I guess is macro-macrocosm, the overall plot of beginning, middle, and end. A few other ideas, such as his intensity scale for determining what to show and what to tell, make it all worthwhile, at least for me, because Bell’s writing is very clear and precise. Some may feel he lays his ideas out too simplistically, too systematically. To a certain extent, I agree. Bell does not attempt to wow us with a glimpse of how masters solve or attain the really tough, intuitive, effects that resonate with greatness, but I like what I got. His focus is commercial fiction but his occasional nod to literary fiction writers is instructive if you MFAs would just loosen up, sheesh.
Profile Image for Suzanne.
304 reviews17 followers
April 28, 2013
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 experimentation is key in discovering the best plotting strategy for you.

With many sections, I found a little something extra that none of the other books considered, too. Lots of plotting books put the end of Act I at the 25% mark, for example, but Bell suggests that while this is great for plays and screenplays, it often feels a little too late in novels. So, he suggests the 20% mark, and in my WIP, this feels perfect. (That's part of why this gets five stars. Might be serendipitous, but I solved a few specific issues with my WIP while reading it.)

This one goes on the keeper shelf.
Profile Image for Milda Stasaitytė.
66 reviews35 followers
May 30, 2020
Reiktų paminėti, kad non-fiction aš skaitau sunkiai, esu visiška grožinės literatūros skaitytoja ir negrožinio teksto skaitymas man dažnai yra darbas. Nepaisant to, siekiu ugdyti ir plėsti savo skaitymo raumenį ir štai vis įterpti vieną kitą negrožinį tekstą. Tiesa, kol skaičiau šį, įterpiau penkis, jei ne daugiau, grožinius, bet aš stengiuosi!

Taigi ši knyga iš esmės skirta svajojančiam, o gal siekiančiam tapti rašytoju. Ji gana aiškiai, grynuoju How-to stiliumi dėsto apie siužeto formavimą, su tuo susijusius keblumus, veikėjų kūrimą, siužeto tipus ir skirtumus, Writer’s block ir kovą su juo, planavimą ar neplanavimą (arba neplanavimo planavimą, pvz) ir taip toliau.

Tačiau šios knygos autorius vartoja tokias formuluotes, kaip “visada veiks” arba “niekada nebus geras” ir pan., o šiems Visadavisada-Niekadaniekada aš turiu gan rimtą alergiją, nes, na, ne taip man pasaulis, o jau nekalbu apie literatūrinį, veikia.

Taigi manau, kad iš tiesų jos tikslinė auditorija yra ne tiek žmogus, svajojantis rašyti, kiek norintis rašyti tik bestselerius, kad ir kokia to būtų kaina (nors autorius ir teigia, kad tokia motyvacija yra pavojinga). Daugelis autoriaus naudojamų pavyzdžių paimti iš holivudinių filmų arba trilerių, kurių aš arba nežinojau (ir nenorėjau žinoti), arba jų pati niekad nelaikyčiau stabais, iš kurių verta mokytis kaip rašyti (pavyzdžiui, The Jaws arba Jurassic Park...). Žinoma, kaip pavyzdys dominuoja ir Stephenas Kingas, kur ne kur minimas Šekspyras, ir Catcher in the Rye, Huckleberry Finn, bet dauguma - man negirdėti trileriai, kur, žinoma, siužetas groja pirmu smuiku, o daugiau, iš esmės, negroja niekas.

Man pasirodė, kad pereiti per šią rašymo instrukciją (kitaip nelabai pavadinsi) visai naudinga tiesiog literatūros teorijos pasikartojimo tikslais, galbūt, sėdant iš tikrųjų rašyti, keli skyriai ir būtų naudingi įvairiose rašymo stadijose. Be to, rašo autorius lengvai ir gana įtraukiančiai, kiek leidžia žanras ir knygos tikslas, tad tikrai neatrodo, jog skaitai vadovėlį. Bet rašymas, mano nuomone, nėra ir neturi būti grįstas formulėmis ir aiškiais žingsneliais, kaip teigia autorius. Todėl, jei jau norima skaityti apie rašymą, vis tik rinkčiausi mažiau formulinius ir labiau laiko patikrintus veikalus (esu apžvelgusi M. Atwood ir Heamingway šia tema).
Profile Image for Kathy Davie.
4,679 reviews704 followers
November 21, 2011
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 character, and maintaining the readers' interest.

Bell also provides an explanation of plot patterns, problems, and tips.

This one is a "buy".

The Cover
The cover is rather fun in bright colors with a bit of an abstract effect as characters rush back and forth on the street, each involved in their own world.

The title says it all.
Profile Image for Donna.
3,903 reviews21 followers
November 23, 2015
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 to put him on my ever growing TBR pile. The information here seemed tangible and doable. So, 4 stars.
Profile Image for Taka.
684 reviews507 followers
November 6, 2009
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 that James Scott Bell does and explained it so intuitively.

The book also goes into the perennial question of "To outline, or not to outline," and offers a thorough account of each approach along with techniques to improve on the approach of one's choice.

Since I'm neither an anarchistic No-Outliner or a totalitarian Outliner, I was dissatisfied by both Robert McKee and James Frey who belonged in the latter camp. James Scott Bell does a superb job of giving a fair share of attention to both and acknowledging that it's really a personal choice and neither approach is superior to the other per se.

For one thing, outlining everything before starting a story kills spontaneity, while not outlining anything kills structure and hence plot and readership. I personally want to strike a balance between spontaneity and structure, making it fun for me to write it and for the reader to read it.

Anyways, a must-read for any storyteller.
Profile Image for VT Dorchester.
188 reviews5 followers
August 13, 2022
I may have overdosed on writing advice lately as I found myself skipping and scanning through this book, seeing a lot of things that I "already knew." I did, however, find myself reminded or prompted on some ideas for my current work while glancing through it, so I suppose it was doing it's job in a way --- however I wasn't engaged by it. It might be more useful to people just starting to study fiction writing, or people more interested in investing time in writing exercises for the sake of the practise, rather than in learning by doing as I tend to do.
Profile Image for Alex Olteanu.
31 reviews4 followers
October 18, 2020
Very useful overall, it's a great read for those who want to write commercial thrillers. Little content on literary fiction though, but you can still find a few golden ideas here and there.
18 reviews1 follower
July 5, 2010
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 on writing a fiction novel then "Techniques of the Selling Writer" may be the more appropriate choice. If you are looking for a book that deals with anything outside of plot and structure, this book will be of no help there either. This book is designed to be supplemental to an already moderately educated reader. If you read Swain's book first, then you will instantly recognize the principles of this book.

What this book is... This is a great book on, you guessed it, Plot and Structure. It's actually a fairly concentrated look into the subject.

The chapters...

Ch 1: What's a plot, anyway?
Ch 2: Structure: What holds your plot together.
Ch 3: How to explode with plot ideas.
Ch 4: Beginning strong.
Ch 5: Middles.
Ch 6: Endings.
Ch 7: Scenes.
Ch 8: Complex Plots.
Ch 9: The character arc in plot.
Ch 10: Plotting Systems.
Ch 11: Revising your plot.
Ch 12: Plot Patterns.
Ch 13: Common plot problems and cures.
Ch 14: Tips and Tools for plot and structure.

I found the specificity of this book very helpful with each principle being illustrated by a paragraph or so of a known author's work. Bell handpicks excerpts from authors varying from Dean Koontz to Herman Melville, brilliantly pulling text from these masters and showing us how they went about the relevant technique. This easy to read nature and well outlined subject matter means I will be using several of its chapters as a personal reference guide in the future. I'm certain it will keep me from making many of the mistakes beginning writers make and possibly save me weeks in rewrites.

I will say this though... "Techniques of the Selling Writer" is a better book and covers plot quite well too; so if you are only going to read one book on writing, that is a damn good place to start. If you want to supplement that reading further, "Plot and Structure" comes highly recommended.
Profile Image for Cora Foerstner.
Author 7 books15 followers
November 13, 2014

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 way or the highway” kind of book. Bell gives practical advice for all writers.

What’s so great about Plot & Structure? The biggest plus is Bell’s practical and down to earth strategies and clear explanations.

Here are the other greats:

Bell’s approach isn’t a how-to formula; it’s more of a guide. His genre is thrillers, but he addresses the needs of other genres as well as those of literary fiction.
He provides many strategies writers can use to approach plot and structure; plus, he encourages readers to find their own way of working.
The exercises at the end of the chapters are practical. If you try some of them, you’ll discover that they aren’t busywork but helpful approaches to solving writing issues.

Unless you’re a pro with so many publications behind you that you don’t need help, this isn’t a book to read once and put away. It’s a book you’ll come back to and get more out of with a second or third reading.

If you want a formula or step-by-step program, this isn’t a book for you. He gives choices so you can find you own style and way of working. Which is one of the things like I about the book. It’s like going to a writer buffet and choose the strategies that work for you.

If you are someone who writes without an outline, you are going to be surprised because Bell doesn’t leave you out of any of the equations. He has strategies for all writers.
Profile Image for Elfscribe.
114 reviews
January 19, 2013
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 approach and good to study and know about. Pretty much every block-buster movie in years uses the same approach. Nevertheless I found a lot to recommend in this book. There are some excellent chapters on different plotting styles. Bell characterizes the two main styles of plotting as the Non-plotter (No Outline People) who like to let the plot unravel organically and the OPs (Outline People) who like to plot out their story in detail before committing words to paper (or the computer screen). He gives pros and cons of each style and then talks about adapting your personal style in more effective ways. I thought that chapter one of the best. He presents some good exercises to study the process for oneself. In addition I appreciated his chapter on revision that included a variety of ways to tackle various problems.
Profile Image for Delaney Diamond.
Author 79 books9,005 followers
February 23, 2012
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 (yes, I'm a pantser!) was helpful,too. There are tips on how to instill likeability in your characters, grabbing readers' attention from the beginning, and stretching the tension, etc.

I think no matter what genre you write in, this book could be beneficial. So far it's the best book I've read on the craft of writing. It covers everything in a succinct, easy-to-understand fashion. If you're looking for a book that gives you the nuts and bolts of writing, this is the book for you. No fluff. You'll receive the bottom line, with plenty of examples to drive the points home.

Get it. You won't be disappointed!!

Profile Image for Whitney.
186 reviews17 followers
September 10, 2019
This was actually the second time that I've read this book. The first time, for some reason, I didn't mark it as read on Goodreads. I enjoyed Bell's, the author, writing style. I liked the way that he " talked" to the reader. I also appreciated that he didn't try to force one way of plotting and structure down the reader's throat. He was very open and was clear that there are many different ways to plot and structure your novel. He also gave a lot of examples. I look forward to reading more of his books on writing. If you are a writer or just someone who is interested in the craft, I recommend reading Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot That Grips Readers from Start to Finish by James Scott Bell.
Profile Image for Castles.
472 reviews17 followers
September 2, 2019
By all means, this book is very good. It got some useful lessons and tips and I respect the experience the author went through and his decision to share it. I will sure try to apply some of those tips myself.

The only little thing I didn’t fully related to in this book is that it’s somewhat very much American oriented. It’s as if it’s meant for thriller or detectives novel writers. Nothing wrong with that of course, but for me, I’m really interested in experimental writing. Some of my favorite writers are surrealists and it seems this didn’t get much debate in this book. It’s understandable of course, but I wish he would talk more about it.

Profile Image for Mephistia.
285 reviews53 followers
November 26, 2008
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.
Profile Image for Anne Hamilton.
Author 34 books146 followers
February 2, 2015
A really quite superb book full of thought-provoking examples, go-get-'em ideas and compelling extracts. An easy, accessible style makes this a joy to read.
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