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Plot Fiction like the Masters

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Plot Fiction like the Masters is an exercise in reading like a writer – reading with the purpose of figuring out how the plots of a few recognized masterpieces succeed in making readers turn the page. The reason for proposing this as a way of learning plot-making is my own experience as a writer -- that the most accomplished novelists are the greatest teachers and that their lessons may be drawn from a close study of their work. The three novels under consideration – Ian Fleming’s Dr. No, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust – have all achieved astonishing success. They are all not only recognized masterpieces of their very different genres but have also won the glittering prizes – fame, fortune, movie deals -- for which many a haggard writer would sell his or her soul to the Devil.
There are, of course, many other books for sale about the art and craft of story-building. But this book is different from the others, because its plotting lessons are not formulaic but concrete and practical – drawn from a close reading of successful books. For unless theories are informed by the specifics of successful stories, they are (for me, at least) of limited value. That is why this book is not about how plots should be made – but how, in three extraordinary novels, they actually were made.
A great plot is a page-turning machine. The reader is immediately grabbed by it and then pulled along by an ever-changing, propulsive dynamic of suspense, curiosity and surprise. All three of these very different novels -- a James Bond thriller, a prototypical “Regency Romance” and a scathing 20th-century black comedy – are driven forward by this kind of engine. One of the chief objectives of this book is – not only to examine the parts of this engine as it moves along, but also to discover the secret of the energy that propels it forward.
Plot Fiction like the Masters is comprised of five chapters, entitled: Introduction; The Case of James Bond; Pride, Prejudice and Plotting; Waugh and the Architecture of Dark Comedy; and Conflict and the Logic of Story-building. Ben Cheever (the author of several fine novels) has written a foreword.

104 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2015

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Terry Richard Bazes

4 books41 followers

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Displaying 1 - 18 of 18 reviews
Profile Image for David Lentz.
Author 17 books311 followers
February 8, 2015
One of many literary strengths in the novels of Terry Richard Bazes and clearly evident in "Goldsmith's Return" and "Lizard World" is his uncanny gift for compelling, original and realistic plotting. Few novelists possess the native talent to weave the plot of a novel in such a truly original fashion as if it were the revelation of a magnificent tapestry of unexpected beauty in its construction by looking at the weaving of its underside. In "Plot Fiction like the Masters" we find that Bazes has deconstructed the art of the plot to provide insight of great value not only to novelists but also to their readers. In so doing Bazes' work heightens an appreciation of the value of the art of the novelist to serve both parties. He accomplishes his literary objective by means of deconstructing the plots of Ian Fleming in "Dr. No", Jane Austen in "Pride and Prejudice" and Evelyn Waugh in "A Handful of Dust." After all, it is the plot which sells the novel, isn't it, and brings it to a wider audience. "A great plot is a page-turning machine," Bazes writes. Clearly, these three masters of the plot are among the most prolific sellers of novels in the history of the genre. "Pride and Prejudice" is perpetually atop lists of favorite novels on Goodreads and Fleming's popular books and movies have made hundreds of millions in a fortune for Fleming. Evelyn Waugh is highly regarded for his overall literary merit as a serious novelist with an undisputed ability to blend beautiful literary style with convincing, original plot lines. Bazes presents us with Gustave Freytag's famous pyramid for plotting and walks us through how these three novelists take their readers up and down this pyramid metaphor in their novels. Each of these three novels shares a story of conflict and the plot points delineate the serious stages in the life cycle of the central conflict. In each novel it is the characterization of the antagonists which govern the architecture of the stages in the life cycle of the central conflict in the introduction, build-up of a central crisis and final resolution of the conflict per Freytag's Plotting Pyramid. It is the advance planning of the plotlines which enables the novelists to design and build characters whose roles serve the purposes of introducing, increasing or resolving a central crisis. "For all three novelists the choice of a conflict and the characterization of the antagonists comprise the very first steps of the story building process," Bazes astutely observes. Secondary characters serve as satellites who come into being to serve to make the stages of the conflict unfold. "It is conflict, like flint against steel, that gives the gift of fire," Bazes writes. Here is why the study of the architecture of conflict matters: it provides not only a roadmap to novelists in the creation of compelling conflict in their work but also gives readers useful instruction in how fictional conflict may well build and resolve also in reality. Do you know of anyone who may stand to benefit from a better understanding of the subject of how conflict increases and can be resolved? The course of life itself is driven by the management of conflict, is it not? Is history no less than the sum total of the great successes and abysmal failures of humanity in the rise and fall of major conflicts? On a grand scale doesn't the destiny of great conflict proximate to our lives govern how we conduct ourselves to resolves their impacts upon our lives? Do we not judge each other and ourselves based upon the criteria of our integrity in managing conflict resolution? Certainly the lives of the two main protagonists in "Pride and Prejudice" were governed by the ways that love overcome the conflicts dividing them because of their respective pride and prejudice. Is this fiction not instructive to us in fact? In his sagacious focus upon the methodologies used by three masters of fiction, Bazes has performed a great service to every novelist and every reader by illuminating how conflict builds into crisis and how conflict is resolved not only in literature but also in the entirety of literature how humanity may invent or discover possible options for solutions to one of its most eternally vexing conundrums. Bazes is expert in his insight because in his novels he both talks the talk and walks the walk: he is the real thing and his own novels attest to his manifest gifts for plotting. The twin subjects of conflict escalating to crisis and its resolution could hardly wish for a more articulate literary novelist to shed new light upon them for both readers and writers with his practical experience and luminous insight than Terry Bazes.
Profile Image for Diane.
Author 1 book38 followers
March 16, 2015
Plot Fiction Like the Masters is more of a nuts-and-bolts kind of approach to the process and focuses on what to do and how best to do it, offering a satisfyingly positive contrast to this approach and providing a toolkit of possibilities to authors who are just getting started in the fiction genre.

Part of the willingness to absorb the important messages herein will include an ability to see the value in an analytical approach that contrasts three very different authors' successful methods and considers how these, in turn, translate to one's own writing. Thus, readers who want a 'quick and dirty' toolset without any accompanying literary analysis might want to look elsewhere … but, that would be a shame.

The power and persuasive approach presented in Plot Fiction Like the Masters can't really be transmitted without actually examining the work of said masters - and Terry Richard Bazes does so with a literary outlook that defines what makes a work of fiction a masterful standout in the realm of literary accomplishment.

Would-be fiction writers should expect a guide far more detailed and complex than the usual 'how to' title - and far more valuable, as a result. It analyzes and contrasts its authors with a solid eye to considering what devices work in literary fiction, and why - and this makes it an invaluable resource indeed.
Profile Image for Kat Olmstead.
23 reviews13 followers
July 14, 2015
After winning this book on Goodreads First Reads I was anxious to begin reading. I have wanted to be an author since I was young, but never felt my books were strong enough. After reading this book Terry helped me apply a different thought process to writing. A strong plot will get you everywhere! This is a must read for budding authors!
Profile Image for em_wemily.
114 reviews19 followers
January 27, 2021
This was a quick read, partially because it was actually short and partially because I began to skim it past the 50/60% point.

Positives first - this book had some good advice:
- You should know the ending of the book before you write the beginning.
- Competing forces create conflict. Conflict is necessary for good stories.
- Subplots should advance the main plot.
- The antagonist is the plot-maker; knowing the villain is the first step in the process of dreaming up plot.
- Surprising your readers instills curiosity in them.
- Some great stories are pyramid shaped.

Most of the book could be boiled down to one of the above points. (Now onto the negatives) This book was unfortunately repetitive, entrenched in its book examples, and just... poorly structured (and poorly named, because from the title, I would have thought this was going to talk about plotting fiction at a higher level, in a more prescriptively tactical way). If you wanted to understand why either 'Dr. No,' 'Pride and Prejudice,' or 'A Handful of Dust' are such successful and effective books, then you might enjoy this. If you are looking for a clear, succinct, well-structured book on how to write a fiction novel from various perspectives, without gratuitous examples, then this isn't the book for you. If you are a writer that's been writing (and reading!) for some time, this definitely isn't the book for you.
Profile Image for Patrick.
333 reviews
October 29, 2017
The title of this small, valuable book immediately suggests its intended audience - aspiring fiction writers - although intense fiction readers would also find it worth their time. It is pitched closer to literary criticism than a "how to" manual, so it is not like one of those screenwriting guides that tells you that you must concoct a sub-crisis on page 46 of your script. (And thank heaven for that, because those screenwriting books are a scourge against creativity in Hollywood. If you ever wonder why all the big-budget movies you see seem vaguely the same no matter what their genre, it's because they are.)

Terry Richard Bazes, a novelist himself, and the holder of a PhD in English Literature, is more sensitive than that, and less prescriptive. He is putting forward neither a General Theory of Fiction (again, thank heaven) nor a writing formula. Rather, he is looking at three acknowledged classics of their genres - Ian Fleming's Dr. No, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, and Evelyn Waugh's A Handful of Dust - and extrapolating certain similarities of approach in their plotting, which center on the notion of plotting backward from climaxes so that each step that leads up to them is effective, and false ends that do not lead up to them are eliminated.

Now, this analysis would not work for every good novel, or at least not in so bald a way. Since this is a book about plotting, it privileges plot as the key element in fiction-writing: "A great plot is a page-turning machine." That is true as far as it goes, but readers whose interests in fiction go beyond plot may feel that Bazes is giving short shrift to characterization, atmosphere, prose, and so on. I felt this specifically when Bazes discussed "minor characters," whom he tends to see as purely functional. I don' think that the minor characters in Austen, for one, read quite so mechanistically as that.

Still, one can't complain that a short book is focussed on what its title says it will be focussed on, especially when there is such abundant good sense and sharp close-reading technique along the way. A lot of the basic ideas here go back to Aristotle's Poetics, although Bazes relies more heavily on Gustav Freytag's famous pyramid of plot structure. I have always had an issue with how Freytag's ideas are diagrammed, which I wish that Bazes had dealt with. A typical Freytag pyramid is shaped like a perfect triangle with a rising action leading to a climax, and a falling action that drops away it. This gives the impression that the climax takes place at the mid-point of the narrative, and the rising and falling actions are given equal space. But that is very seldom the case. More typically, the rising action is gradual and takes up 75% of the story or more; the falling action is precipitous and swift and takes up 25% of the story or less. The tendency in movies especially - and now popular novels follow movies' lead - is to compress post-climactic action ruthlessly.

A particular strength of Bazes' essay is the deliberate disparity among the three texts he analyzes. You can't get much more different than Dr. No and Pride and Prejudice! Bazes wants that strong contrast between an action-oriented text with virtually no internal characterization and a psychologically-oriented text with deep characterization, in order to demonstrate that notwithstanding their immense differences, the two novels use plenty of the same plotting techniques. The contrast is indeed an effective one, although it must be said that although it is easy to follow Bazes' analysis of Dr. No whether you have read the book or not, it is much less easy to follow the discussion of Pride and Prejudice if you have not gotten that book under your belt (and recently at that).

Tossing in A Handful of Dust, a comic novel with a cruel edge and a nasty resolution, is a cheeky move and also works to the book's benefit. As with Dr. No, the discussion of this book is crystalline whether you have read it or not (and if you haven't, you'll want to afterwards).

Plot Fiction like the Masters deserves a place in the budding novelist's arsenal.
Profile Image for Azariah.
11 reviews9 followers
October 12, 2015
What makes a good novel? Let’s start at square one and focus on what makes a novel. You may have already (and with much relish) thought up your characters and your setting and a bit of what might happen in your story. Now you need to structure your story. We’re talking about plot, a sequence of events in which to place your story’s fortunate (or not so fortunate) characters. The golden thread that connects critical actions, traits, motives, goals and their consequences. There isn’t really a right or wrong way to write a novel. One can, however, decide whether or not a novel is well written—that’s where technique comes in. After all, a novel is a work of art produced by skill and inventive flair, not a bookcase you can assemble with a step by step manual from IKEA.

In the quest to show us how storylines have been made as opposed to how they should be made, Terry Richard Bazes highlights the creative opportunities to be found in fiction writing. There are various approaches to the concept of plotting fiction. Bazes focuses on three of these strategies as he examines the novels of three notable writers, whose works hail from diverse genres: Dr. No, a thriller in the swashbuckling James Bond series created by Ian Fleming; the beloved novel of manners Pride & Prejudice by the famed Regency-era novelist Jane Austen and the modern black comedy A Handful of Dust by the great English author Evelyn Waugh.

One of Bazes’ principal arguments is that every story needs a conflict and it’s up to you to decide where to situate it and what kind of conflict it should be. It’s helpful to know that all three novels introduce their conflict in their initial chapters. The story can then unfold incrementally like Waugh’s novel or with suspense like Fleming’s spy thriller. In the case of Austen’s novel, Bazes underlines the dramatic possibilities of interlacing subplots that affect the main trajectory. He discusses the theory of dramatic structure in Freytag’s Pyramid and proposes useful methods like plotting important incidents early on and ‘writing backwards’ to stay on track. This book would therefore suit all literary enthusiasts, all writers and readers who possess one thing in common: a love of literature. Bazes professes the same attachment at a professional level also, being a writer of fiction himself and having completed a PhD in 17th and 18th century English literature. He knows his stuff, basically.

Though it is strongly advisable to read the three studied novels before taking on this one, each book has its own chapter, which means you can skip the parts you don’t plan on reading just yet. The book is rather thin, but do not be deceived by its lightness for its pages hold an abundance of reflections on the writerly craft. Its portability is an added bonus, so be sure to look for this brilliant little gem at the bookstore. It will be referred to quite often as you plan out that mammoth dystopian novel you’ve been anxious to write.

Reposted with permission from NZBooklovers
Original link: (Plot Fiction like the Masters: Ian Fleming, Jane Austen, Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Story-Building, by Terry Richard Bazes)
Profile Image for Lilac Reviews.
98 reviews3 followers
July 19, 2015
Smart writers read a great deal. They love words so that’s not really surprising. The smart part is that not only are they enjoying a novel for entertainment, they are learning skills consciously or unconsciously. Mr. Bazes takes this a step further and deconstructs what exactly were the strategies and techniques used by some authors he admires.
It was a wonderful move that he selected three entirely different writers to chat about. These approaches work no matter what genre you write. Some writer’s struggle with a slumping middle to their books. Terry’s discussion of the James Bond book Dr. No draws attention to how the tension was kept up. For those that like are looking to improve their plotting, a look at Pride and Prejudice is next. Evelyn Waugh rounds out the masters.
It may sound crazy, because you are reading a book, but I felt like I was having a great confab with writer friends at a restaurant talking about our craft and things we’d seen our favorite writers do. I’d be reading along and found myself responding to comments Terry was making. Talking back in my mind, ‘Yes, I never thought of it that way, what if you…”
It’s not a heavy or large book. Maybe that’s why I felt I was sharing an evening with a writing buddy. Certainly it reinforced the idea that a good underlying structure, though invisible to the casual reader, contributes greatly to the success of the work. I would recommend this read to any fiction writer.
I was provided a free copy to read and write an honest review.
Profile Image for Nick Rossi.
166 reviews4 followers
December 8, 2015
Truly unlike any instructional 'how to write' type of book I've come across before, Terry Richard Bazes' "Plot Fiction Like the Masters" is unique and refreshing. It takes an original stance on identifying what the magic is behind some of the universally acknowledged literary classics of our time.

Using Ian Fleming's "Dr. No", Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" and Evelyn Waugh's "A Handful of Dust" as case studies, Bazes analyzes the thematic constructs and tricks by these authors to help define what truly makes a classic. Bazes provides key, insightful commentary and instructions on what truly makes a plot a success. Using the above case studies, he separates himself from the usual rhetoric of popular writing guides and focuses on a practical aid to help the modern author create a masterpiece.

Accessibly written and rather entertaining, "Plot Fiction Like the Masters" is a welcome addition to any writers' library. It's original and refreshing, and, above all, extremely useful.

Like this review? Read more like it at www.readingotherpeople.com
Profile Image for Linda Morelli.
112 reviews1 follower
July 1, 2015
Gustave Freytag created a story pyramid, wherein he divided stories into five parts: the introduction, rise, climax, fall and catastrophe. Bazes' application of Freytag’s pyramid to a James Bond thriller, a classic Regency romance and a 20th century black comedy, illustrates how we can apply Freytag’s pyramid to novels and better understand the importance of conflict in plotting in the novels we read or write. ... Bazes proposes that, by analyzing stories, we can “unlock the treasure chest inside ourselves” that contains our own stories. Plot fiction like the Masters is excellently written and an important source for writers, teachers, students and readers alike. It’s also one I highly recommend.

My full review can be found at: http://myshelf.com/writing/11/plotfic...
17 reviews5 followers
September 25, 2015
I got the book via Goodreads Giveaway. The book is a true guide for all the aspiring writers. I love the apparent assumptions relating to the thought processes of different authors in accordance with their books. I am definite that the tips and advices provided by Terry Richard Bazes in the book will enable me and every other reader to gain the skill of intriguing their future readers. I really appreciate the frequent references to the Freytag's Pyramid. This book has greatly provided me with the knowledge of building a well-structured plot.
P.S. : I truly thank you, Terry Richard Bazes for sharing your knowledge with me.
9 reviews36 followers
October 2, 2015
This book is very informative, and doesn't feel like you're reading a boring textbook on the subject. The author's writing held my interest despite this being a non-fiction book, and one I normally wouldn't be interested in. I am likely going to find other books by Terry Richard Bazes now.
After only three pages I was already learning things I didn't know about writing fiction. It is good for its intended purpose, and I would definitely recommend it to those who want to write, or even those who don't and are just curios about what an author would need to know. It is short and to the point, so you wont be spending a long time reading it before you can use its information.
Profile Image for guiltlessreader.
368 reviews117 followers
February 23, 2016
A fascinating look into the plots of three popular books and learning how the authors built out there plots to produce page-turning masterpieces! An invaluable resource for authors; a chance for readers to read like a writer. Highly recommended. Full review on my blog Guiltless Reading.

Such an intriguing book -- now am really curious about the works mentioned. I've read only Pride and Prejudice so I don't think I get as much as someone who knows all three works mentioned!
Profile Image for Nita.
22 reviews1 follower
February 8, 2016
I learned a lot from this book.. I learned good ideas about plot of a book, on what is I think the best way to start, end and gives the climax of the story. It reminds me of types of a novel plot that I can be use even when writing a short story. The author explained and gave a good summary and description for each book that he reviewed. Hope to read your other published books. Thank you for sharing you knowledge and talent especially for us beginners.
5 reviews
July 19, 2015
I won this book on Goodreads First Reads, I've wanted to be a writer since I was little and it was good to see how three really good authors made their books successful. This book breaks down what to do and how you should do it. It's great for any writers just getting into fiction writing or who's had trouble plotting.
Reading like a writer, so you can plot fiction like the masters. Definitely worth reading again.
1,303 reviews32 followers
July 17, 2015
A short how to book on writing fiction. This would be a good read for anyone thinking of becoming a writer.
Profile Image for Shaaer.
49 reviews4 followers
Shelved as 'shelved-not-read'
August 1, 2015
I ve received the book as part of first reads giveaway.
Will be posting the review once I m done with the book.
Profile Image for Stephen Terrell.
424 reviews3 followers
July 7, 2019
This book analyses three distinct novels, and attempt to draw from them tricks to plotting. It certainly succeeds in the analysis, but I'm not sure about the extent a writer can learn about plotting from it.

The three novels are Ian Fleming's Dr. No, Jane Austin's Pride and Prejudice and Evelyn Waugh's A Handful of Dust. Admittedly, it would be difficult to find three more different books. I was familiar with the first two, but not the third.

As a LONGTIME fan of Ian Fleming's books, I particularly enjoyed the dissection of the plot and characters of Dr. No. I think Fleming is often underrated as a master thriller writer. This book pointed out how well the plot is conceived, how early scenes set the stage for later confrontation, and how the book builds to its climactic resolution.

The analysis of the other two books was also interesting, though at times the I seemed to get lost in the evaluation of the more complex aspect of the dark humor in Waugh's book.

For the aspiring writer, it's not this is not the Holy Grail of plotting. But its a quick read and may give a new outlook in evaluating a novice writer's own plotting.
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