Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell

A few people have mentioned this book on Twitter, and then yesterday, I saw an entire blog post on it (and I'm sorry, but I can't for the life of me remember where I saw it!). After work I had an hour or so to kill in Harvard Square, so I ran into the Coop and bought it.

Holy wow, what a valuable resource.

In the past, when I've written, I've sort of bopped along on this blind, "Weeeee I want my characters to go HERE and do THIS and then THAT THING will happen and it will be GREAT!" Sure, I thought about plot. I knew it was important. I thought, "Hey, I've got one of those!" But it wasn't until I started paging through Bell's book that I really became mindful of the elements of plot and successful structures.

I've been working on my shiny new idea, but hadn't actually started writing. I had my characters in mind, my setting, and basically what I wanted to convey and some scenes I wanted to write. But after reading the first half of Plot & Structure, I was actually able to sit down and figure out just what the hell I'm doing with this story. Using his LOCK method (Lead, Objective, Confrontation, Knockout), I was finally able to articulate just what I wanted to happen with this shiny idea without using ten thousand words, a few ums, and a lot of awkward pauses.

What I like best about the book is that he writes it with commercial fiction in mind. A lot of his examples come from folks like Stephen King, James Patterson, and Dean Koontz. Now, people pretty much universally acknowledge King to be .. well, the King of writing (I definitely recommend reading his book On Writing). But most writers will roll their eyes if you mention Patterson or Koontz. But those folks are writing books people want to read, so there's something going right there. I'll say it: I want to write commercial fiction! And I don't think that has to be the equivalent to saying "I want to have sex for money" (because let's be honest, lots of writers will recoil in faux-horror when you mention the c-word in relation to writing).

Bell takes a lot of the technical jargon you might hear in your average creative writing class and reframes it in a way that makes sense to me. His writing is very conversational, which makes it a fun read and not some technical snooze-fest that I find in so many other writing manuals.  So for anyone struggling with the mechanics of plot and/or structure (by the way, those things are different ... thanks James Scott Bell!), I definitely recommend picking this one up.


Sarah B. said...

Hey! I'm glad you posted about this book. I actually OWN IT, but haven't spent enough time (read: hardly any) actually going through it... Now I will! Tonight!

rollid said...

Ooh, shiny new writing book! Now I must run to the bookstore. Have you read Bird by Bird?

Lauren Elizabeth Morrill (Mona Mour) said...

Yes! I love Bird by Bird. And On Writing. Have you read Stephen King yet? I don't agree with his methods, really (I can't let the story just unfold ... it would take me years to revise that mess!), but I still really got a lot out of reading it.

Katherine Cox said...

Thank you so much Lauren! Just a quick question: does this book cover what I'll call "pacing"? For instance: I have some conflicts and resolutions, and they encompass the entire arch of the plot, but it's the spaces in-between the major plot points that I have trouble filling. Further, does that say something about my story?

Lauren Elizabeth Morrill (Mona Mour) said...

I've only gotten about half way through, but thus far it seems like following a lot of the structure tips in turn eliminates pacing problems.