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(Elements of Fiction Writing)

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  805 ratings  ·  70 reviews
"There are ways to create, fix, steer and discover plots--ways which, over a writing life, you'd eventually puzzle out for yourself," writes Ansen Dibell. "They aren't laws. They're an array of choices, things to try, once you've put a name to the particular problem you're facing now."

That's what this book is about: identifying those choices (whose viewpoint? stop and
Paperback, 170 pages
Published July 15th 1999 by Writer's Digest Books (first published 1988)
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Average rating 3.88  · 
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Jun 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Plot is a matter of choices instead of an outline of writing skills. It provides four questions for testing a story idea. Plot discusses the difference between scene and exposition, and the need for both. It highlights techniques such as mirroring and echoes, braiding plot and subplots, melodrama, pacing, transition, frames, and flashbacks and flashforwards. Plot discusses how to recognize the end of a story. Finally, it goes beyond the cause and effect plot to the mosaic, collage and revelation ...more
Feb 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing
The chapters on beginnings and endings were superb and very helpful. So many writers guides are catered to genre fiction and churning out the next bestseller - I appreciated Dibell's treatment of short story collections and literary works. She used extensive examples from books and movies that I have seen and liked (Lord of the Flies, Jane Eyre, and Star Wars), so that probably helped too - many of the other guides I have read cite examples of plotlines and character arcs that I am just not ...more
Amanda Tero
If you think this is a book about outlining your novel, you're wrong (I was happy for that; I'm not huge on outlining). It is a book that explores what plot is and how you need to think about it. I thought it did a good job explaining what is needed for short story vs. novel.

I could have done without chapter seven (on melodrama, curses, vampires, dark things I'll never use), and for some reason after that, my interest in the book kind of waned. It could be because I just had a few long days, but
John Patterson
Jan 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
When I was a freshman in high school my English teacher went over a rather dull lecture of the technical aspects of a plot. Exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution.
Thankfully, the author does not once go over this structure. Instead she recognizes that a plot can take several forms and goes over the disparate elements. Some elements that must be used and understood, like exposition and viewpoint. Others that are optional, like subplots and flashbacks. Each concept is
Matt Evans
Feb 13, 2012 rated it liked it
The author, for some unknown reason, uses a pseudonym. She claims to have written the internationally published five-book science fiction series The Rule of One. But that fiction series doesnt exist, at least not on a public or international scale, so kudos to Dibell for thus keeping the forensic loop closed on her pseudonym. But wait -- lets check the internet. Turns out Dibell is in fact Nancy Ann Dibble, American Sci-fi-wri-(ter). Shes dead now, but must have been something of a Star Wars nut ...more
Eric Shaffer
Dec 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love books on writing. Each one is like going to school with a new instructor, and no matter what they know or don't know, it's always fun to review basics and see them from another point of view. One thing I particularly liked about this book is that Dibell was at least aware--even in a book focused primarily on plot--that plot is not only an artificially and chronologically arranged series of staged events, as, we all must admit, most plots are, but that plots can also dispense with one or ...more
Misha Crews
Jul 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fiction writers
I was given this book as a graduation present when I finished high school, and it was one of the best gifts I've ever received. Dibell's points are all concise, intelligently written, and most of all, true! I've referred back to this book countless times and I doubt I'll ever get tired of it.
Sep 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing
My wife and I are downsizing our library in anticipation of moving from the house where we raised our family to a much smaller place, where the two of us can be cozy together. In the process, she gave me a dozen or so books about writing that she's accumulated over the decades, to determine if there are any I would like to keep.

PLOT, by Ansen Dibell is a keeper.

Dibell defines plot as "the things characters do, feel, think, or say, that make a difference to what comes afterward." This is not the
Oct 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
In some ways this book is a little out-dated, but in other ways it is still credible. Every little detail, every little thought, could be construed as boring if you don't have your thinking cap on.
I think my absolute favorite, and most relatable part was that of The Empire Strikes Back references. Of all the examples, that one helped me the most. Glad I took the time to study this book and now I need to imlement what I have learned!
May 10, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very concise and easy-to-read, with practical examples from well-known stories (including The Empire Strikes Back!) discussing the mechanics of structuring plot. The list of techniques is extensive, and along with the means for using them, are plenty of warnings of how they can go very wrong. The techniques she lists are useful in any kind of fiction writing, from genre fiction, to literary novels, to short stories (and given the Star Wars examples, I suppose even screenwriting).

However, the
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Apr 30, 2010 rated it really liked it
An editor once told me that if you're going to take advice on writing, take it either from name-bestselling writers or gatekeepers such as acquiring editors or agents--not necessarily anyone who writes for Writer's Digest or has taught a writing class. Dibell doesn't quality as a "name" writer, but I do like the Elements of Fiction Writing series Writer's Digest puts out--and plotting is one of my weaknesses. This is more about fixing plots then generating them. Dibell obviously agrees with ...more
Jan 30, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jorge by: Joe Paddock
"Plot" offers fiction writers advice on how to structure their stories, whether they're short pieces or novels.

Ansen Dibell (a pen name for the late Nancy Ann Dibble) approaches the subject with a conversational tone. Not once does it feel like you're reading a textbook.

"Plot" doesn't present you with a ton of rigid rules to churn out identically structured cookie-cutter works. Rather, it presents a slew of choices and possibilities, all meant to lend form and unity to all those great ideas
Kelsey Bryant
Oct 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This book started out a little basic (warning against blah beginnings, too much exposition, etc.) but soon delved into all sorts of more advanced techniques that I'd never had explained to me before, like mirrors, set-pieces, plot braiding, and adding satisfying twists...and much more! These techniques are what help stories go beyond basic and into something readers will really love and reread. Not enough how-to books go into writing the problematic middle of fictional works, but this book ...more
H.G. Chambers
Aug 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Gold nuggets

Began this book with expectations to learn a few tips about structure. Ended up learning several new techniques that were immediately applicable to my current project. Insightful and well worth a read for anyone writing novels.
James Aura
Mar 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
A useful and interesting book. Lots of colorful examples with excerpts from memorable novels.
Jun 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing

Dibell is writing during the 80s and this book is one in a series about writng--the others I don't own--as far as I know because I haven't yet looked the titles up.

Her writing is excellent, clear, purposeful. She gives examples, using mainly films--which seems a little odd but not when you think about it because someone writes those screenplays using much the same techniques as used in novel writing, so maybe not so odd.

The advice she gives is repeated again and again in more current
Dec 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
I found it very useful though it wasn't what I was expecting. It isn't what to write on what page (Save the Cat techinique) nor cycles of characters (Hero's Journery). It wasn't a formula for writing plot (Bell's Plot and Structure).

The book offered a slightly different view on what plot is and how to approach it. It gives a broader scope to plot and pointed out things of which to be wary. It was enlightinging and hearty, but it didn't sink into dullness as writing craft books sometimes do.

I did
Oct 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is easily one of my favorite books I've read on craft. Approachable, clear-eyed, but by no means simplistic, this book should be helpful for writers of literary fiction and genre alike. I loved, in particular, its discussions on form and pattern, as it's a kind of analysis that I think that doesn't come up often enough in many writing workshops, even though I think they're fundamental parts of what makes great literature great. I look forward to returning to this book.
Laura Gilfillan
Oct 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: on-writing
The two major difficulties with plot are creating it and controlling it. The author presents a good discussion of the elements of plot sprinkled with examples, such as openings, viewpoint, exposition, subplots, building the big scenes, melodrama, patterns, pacing, and ends. This was an enjoyable and instructional read.
Cage Dunn
Sep 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Not for the newbie, this is a finer look at plot after the writer knows about structure and scenes. I enjoyed it and will reread some sections a few more times.
Definitely worth a look after the writer thinks they've got all the skills they need, because this is one step beyond that to find the subtlety of better than average.
Jun 09, 2018 rated it did not like it
I felt that it was too theoretical. I would read an entire page or two and then realize that I can't summarize the idea in a single sentence. Things like "you gotta take into account X but also make sure that you aren't too X; a little Y always helps" and other similar advice.
Olivio Sarikas
The book is kind of good, but i felt like it could use some more and clearer examples. It wastes a bit of time on niches that are probably not that important to beginners, while cutting short some other basic things you really would like to understand better to get started.
Jan 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
My Gram gave me this when I was 12, 13. As a teenager, I used it often.

I discovered it on a recent visit home. I'm still very fond of this book and I have already implemented some of Dibell's advice for a story I'm currently writing.
Oct 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I found this book to be really helpful, actually. (Maybe it's, in part, because I can't use outlines to write to save my life, and this author also isn't a fan of outlines?)
Richard Skolek
Jul 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Clear, deep, easy-to-follow. It has everything that you might want in a book such as this.
Nov 14, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018
This was helpful to read while I was revising my novel manuscript.
Aug 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Lots of great information in this book.
Aug 17, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: writing
Another great book on technique, especially helpful if you have a ghost of a plot. As you plow through this writiers' suggestions, you'll start snagging your plot idea on all sorts of new ideas and twists.

I don't think this book is intended to actually help you develop a plot, only structure one, but even so, it helps jog lots of ideas. And strucutre deserves a lot of thought, if your a planning sort of writer.

Also, Orson Scott Card's books in this same series, "Character and Viewpoint" and
Jun 09, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, writing
I have read better books on how to create good fiction, but none were as exacting about plot maintenance, and of course, this is a good thing for a book on plots. That being said, I think I should have been writing, rather than reading a book on plots. Sure, I felt the conflict and the build-up while reading it, but the lack of my action, or no-action, was a glaring defect that I desperately wanted to rectify. So, as a book on plots, I desperately wanted to make one by putting the book down.

Jun 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I love this book. I bought it in junior high or high school, back when I was being serious about my writing. I just picked it up again, and it's as excellent as I remember. It really makes you think through what you're trying to accomplish with every facet of your writing--why each scene is there, what it accomplishes, what it tells about your character, why it's from the point of view you chose, etc. An excellent resource.
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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Ansen Dibell was the penname used by Nancy Ann Dibble (September 8, 1942 March 7, 2006), an American science fiction author, who also published books about fiction writing. Born in Staten Island, New York, she received her Master of Fine Arts degree from the Iowa Writers Workshop and earned a doctorate in 19th C. English literature. She taught literature and

Other books in the series

Elements of Fiction Writing (1 - 10 of 11 books)
  • Beginnings, Middles & Ends (Elements of Fiction Writing)
  • Characters and Viewpoint (Elements of Fiction Writing)
  • Conflict, Action and Suspense (Elements of Fiction Writing)
  • Description
  • Dialogue (Elements of Fiction Writing)
  • Manuscript Submission
  • Scene & Structure (Elements of Fiction Writing)
  • Setting: How to Create and Sustain a Sharp Sense of Time and Place in Your Fiction
  • Conflict and Suspense (Elements of Fiction Writing)
  • Voice and Style

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