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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 ·  4,443 Ratings  ·  423 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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Jason Koivu
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
Mar 03, 2009 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
Lewis Weinstein
Jun 12, 2017 marked it as to-read
Shelves: writing
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 dow
Jul 24, 2011 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
Julie Christine
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
Ahmed  Ejaz
May 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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
Jonathan Peto
Mar 28, 2015 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
Jun 16, 2011 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 03, 2009 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
Kristie Cook
Sep 26, 2011 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.
Apr 24, 2013 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
Kathy Davie
Nov 21, 2011 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
Nov 21, 2015 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
Charles Kato
Jul 04, 2010 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
Cora Foerstner
Oct 30, 2014 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
Mar 25, 2012 rated it did not like it
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 Jame
Jan 18, 2013 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
Delaney Diamond
Feb 23, 2012 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
Nov 26, 2008 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.
Anne Hamilton
Sep 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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.
Stephanie Swanbeck
Oct 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Flawless and inspirational. A must -read for all fiction writers.
Una Tiers
Aug 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Lots of good material here, will need to read it again.
Jun 25, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: writing
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
Christopher S. Garner
Apr 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Extremely informative, inspirational, lucid, and backed by a successful writing career, "Plot & Structure" is a book for which I just don't have many complaints. Bell is not only thorough in his elucidation of good story telling, he is also, somehow, fun with it. And who would've thought that learning about plot and structure could be fun? Not me. I thought it would've been more akin to attempting to swallow a strawberry whole - yeah, you'll get the nutrition you need, but there has to be an ...more
ZaBeth  Marsh
Much like his in-person classes, when you finish Bell’s Plot & Structure you will feel better prepared to write a novel. This should be prerequisite reading for NANOWRIMO but you need to read it in January because there are a lot of exercises which are excellent prewriting work you could do before November that can truly impact your work. The more work you put into plotting and structure the easier your book will flow. This holds true for outliners and fly-by-the-seat-your-pants writers (aff ...more
May 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: about-writing
Extremely Helpful

I am a writer. I am working on a novel so Reading within my genre and books about writing is very important to me. This book was recommended by a famous author and I’m glad I purchased it. It was extremely helpful and will definitely be a book I refer to throughout my writing process.
Christine Zolendz
Feb 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
If I could insert a miniature sized James Scott Bell into my ear as I write I think my writing career would be AWESOME. His techniques and excercises for crafting plot is on point. Seriously, I would totally buy a little clone of him and kept him in my pocket.
Ronnie Stephens
Dec 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Plot & Structure is a solid craft book which benefits from its dogged focus on a specific area of narrative. Unlike many of the craft books I’ve read, this one was neither overwhelming nor too general to be useful. Bell has navigated the line between quite nicely, framing his discussions and exercises so that they are helpful to experienced writers and beginning writers alike. Since a cohesive plot is one of the most difficult, but also essential, elements in a novel, I consider this book mo ...more
Randy Wise
Feb 21, 2011 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
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  • Description & Setting
  • Dialogue: Techniques and exercises for crafting effective dialogue
  • Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting Dynamic Characters and Effective Viewpoints
  • The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great
  • Scene & Structure (Elements of Fiction Writing)
  • Plot
  • Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time
  • Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go
  • Story Engineering: Character Development, Story Concept, Scene Construction
  • Description
  • Techniques of the Selling Writer
  • Characters and Viewpoint (Elements of Fiction Writing)
  • Between the Lines: Master the Subtle Elements of Fiction Writing
  • The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master
  • GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction
  • Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore
  • 20 Master Plots: And How to Build Them
  • How to Write a Damn Good Novel: A Step-by-Step No Nonsense Guide to Dramatic Storytelling
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

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Write Great Fiction (5 books)
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