Geek Girl Learns

From James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure

Appropriate for Nano month, right?

Have I mentioned before that I love James Scott Bell? Because I love James Scott Bell. (And I’ve really only read two of his books.) In the spirit of the crazy writing times that is Nanowrimo, I will be reviewing Plot and Structure this week.

Perhaps it will help around the 14th?

The Good

I might have said this before, but James Scott Bell understands writers, and this is really how I know. The introduction of this book is all about how writing, and especially writing novels, is not a divine gift granted to the very few. It is a skill. More importantly, it is a skill that can be taught and improved. And he is ready to teach.

He gives a general overview of some of the points in this book in the other work I’ve read, Revision and Self-Editing, but here is where we get into all the details of plot and structure specifically. Like other craft books I’ve read, he gives exercises at the end of each chapter, so that you can practice what he has taught. And the exercises build on each other, so that if you do them in sequence you learn far more.

The Better

Honestly, picking up this book, I wasn’t sure how a craft book could focus entirely on plot. (Have I mentioned that this would be only the third craft book I’d read cover to cover?) However, he has a chapter on beginnings. He has a chapter on endings. And, most importantly, he has a chapter on middles!

Yes, the all important mushy middle.

He gives us an entire chapter just on the bits of plot that most writers struggle with the most. Technically, it’s more than one chapter, because he also talks about the mushy middle when he talks about complex plots (adding subplot and expanding on theme) and when he talks about plot through character (character arcs in plot).

There is no reason, after reading this and absorbing it into our writing, that we should have any problems with mushy middles anymore.

At least on the second draft.

You never know with that pesky zero and first drafts.

The Best

You’d think, with a book about plot, it would be forcing everyone to become a planner/outliner (as opposed to a pantser/drafter). Not so my good readers! James Scott Bell writes specifically about various plotting systems, and how both outliners and drafters can use them.

This is what really sold the book for me. Because I am almost exactly in the middle of the outlining/drafting spectrum. I need to know the big points, and what I will write daily, but I outline that daily writing on a day to day basis. I have not found a single system that really works for me. But with this book, I now know how to adapt systems to fit my needs rather trying to bend myself to the systems.

The Verdict

I will be keeping this book. And re-reading it. Again. And again. And, perhaps, again.

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