Review: Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell

I’m not doing so well on my goal of reading one craft book a month. But it’s not that I haven’t been reading. I have! It’s just been a little slow going with life’s events and getting two books ready for publication. It also has to do with the book I’ve been reading – Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that it’s a bad book or boring or anything so horrible. Most of you have already read this book and know it’s actually quite the opposite. It’s one of the best craft books I’ve read so far. However, it’s so chock full of useful information that I could only read a few sections at a time before I had to stop and give my mind a chance to absorb what I just read.

What I Liked About This Book:

  • It’s only about plot and structure – An entire book about the foundation of a story, rather than just a chapter or two. While most books that cover an array of novel writing topics only skim the surface of each, this one delves deep into plot issues and solutions.
  • Although it’s only about plot, pantsers can use it, too – I admit I was a little worried going into this book, sure that Bell would try to convince me that plotting and outlining is the only way to write a book. I was once a solid pantser, but I’ve become more of a hybrid. What I really liked about Bell is that he doesn’t try to convince you that plotting is better…or that pantsing is better. He sees the benefits of both ways – even explains these benefits better than I’ve seen anywhere – and lets you write the way you write and still be able to use his techniques.
  • Solid, useable tips and tricks – Whether you’re just getting started and want to plot and outline a shiny new idea or you’ve already written a first draft and need some serious plot help, you will find what you need in this book. Bell doesn’t just give you theory to analyze in already published books. He gives you real techniques that you can put to use immediately. His LOCK system (Lead, Objective, Confrontation, Knockout) is a very basic plotting technique that applies to any book. He explains the components of the three-act structure, making it simple to put to use in planning your next book or fixing the plot problems in your current WIP. Have a sagging middle? You’ll find real solutions in this book.

What I Didn’t Like About This Book:

  • Um…*crickets*… – Yeah, there’s not really anything I didn’t like. If I have to come up with one thing I’d say that Bell is adamant about his three-act structure. I definitely like the structure and can see it in almost every story (whether book, TV or movie), however, I don’t know enough about other structures to say that it’s the best one. Or the only one. But for now, it’s the one I use. However, if you take it too literally, your writing can become formulaic. So don’t let the structure take over your creativity.
  • The only other thing I can say is what I’ve already said – there’s so much to absorb in this book that it takes time to get through it. But it’s definitely not a read-one-time-and-shelve-it kind of book. It’s a reference to be used as a consultant.

My Favorite Parts:
Nothing stands out more than anything else. I found solutions and ideas for my current WIPs this time around, but next time I read it, I might find something else that I like better. It’s just that kind of book where you take some and leave others each time you read it.

Recommendation: Well, if it’s not clear, I definitely recommend this book. I know many of you already have read it – after all, I learned about it from my online writing buddies. But if you’re one of the few who haven’t, you definitely need to. Buy your own copy, too, because you’ll be dog-earring pages and highlighting passages. You’ll want it close by your side, especially during the outlining and drafting stages.

Have you read it? What are your thoughts about it?

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One Response to Review: Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell

  1. I haven’t read it. I love Save The Cat (Blake Synder) and Anatomy of Story (John Truby). With AoS, you go through numerous exercises to make sure your story idea shines before writing the first draft.

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