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The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life [Paperback]

by Noah Lukeman
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)

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Book Description

June 18, 2003 0312309287 978-0312309282
As a literary agent, Noah Lukeman hears thousands of book pitches a year. Often the stories sound great in concept, but never live up to their potential on the page. Lukeman shows beginning and advanced writers how to implement the fundamentals of successful plot development, such as character building and heightened suspense and conflict. Writers will find it impossible to walk away from this invaluable guide---a veritable fiction-writing workshop---without boundless new ideas.

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The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life + The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide To Staying Out of the Rejection Pile + The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide To Character Expression
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Lukeman's second book on writing after 2000's The First Five Pages (a third volume on dialogue is still to come) discusses the craft of writing well-plotted fiction. Lukeman, a literary agent, rallies against the lazy and mundane that cross his desk in the form of 50,000 manuscripts submitted in the last five years. Initially, at least, he is less concerned with artfulness than the simple need to make the book compelling beyond the first few pages. He asserts that the foundation (and often the first casualty) of a book is character, and accordingly, Lukeman dedicates the first two chapters to an exhaustive list of questions a writer should ask about the "outer" and "inner" life of each character. He encourages a Dr. Frankenstein-like approach to creating realistic fictional characters: devising them with the intention of bending them to the writer's own will, but at the same time investing them with enough life that they are capable of making their own way in the world and ultimately surprising their creator. A third chapter called "Applied Characterization" discusses how to use this knowledge to form a plot. The remaining five chapters cover different aspects of plotting: "The Journey," "Suspense," "Conflict," "Context" and "Transcendency." Lukeman's advice is practical and often entails multiple, time-consuming steps without a hint of the flakiness that creeps into many writing guides. The closest he ever gets to sounding like a guru is when he sagely stresses, "Real life is the best teacher." Though Lukeman works with books, he wisely asserts that the observations in this volume are applicable to all types of imaginary writing, from film to poetry. Indeed, it is a worthy addition to any narrative writer's reference shelf.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

In this follow-up to the author's successful First Five Pages (2000), literary agent Lukeman focuses on the mechanics of storytelling. He introduces budding writers to the techniques of characterization (ask yourself questions about the people you've created), the various ways of generating suspense (danger, a ticking clock), and the importance of conflict. He writes from experience: he's read, he tells us, more than 50,000 manuscripts in the past half decade. Curiously, he mostly uses movies to illustrate his points, on the assumption that more of his readers will recognize his references that way. (This premise--that would-be writers won't be familiar with literary references--may strike some as slightly insulting, unintentional though it may be.) All in all, though, this is a crisply written, nicely detailed examination of the art of storytelling. Beginning writers will find plenty of practical tips and useful advice in its pages. David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin (June 18, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312309287
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312309282
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #421,381 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Noah Lukeman is author of A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation (WW Norton and Oxford University Press), to be published in April, 2006. He is also author of the bestsellers The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying out of the Rejection Pile (Simon & Schuster, 1999), and The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life (St. Martins Press, 2002), a BookSense 76 Selection, a Publishers Weekly Daily pick, and a selection of the Writers Digest Book Club. He has also worked as a collaborator, and is co-author, with Lieutenant General Michael "Rifle" DeLong, USMC, Ret., of Inside CentCom (Regnery, 2004), a Main Selection of the Military Book Club. His Op-Ed pieces (with General DeLong) have been published in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. He has also contributed to Poets & Writers, Writers Digest, The Writer, AWP Chronicle and The Writers Market, and has been anthologized in The Practical Writer (Viking, 2004). Foreign editions of his books have been published in the UK and in Portugese, Japanese, Korean, Chinese and Indonesian.
Noah Lukeman is President of Lukeman Literary Management Ltd, a New York based literary agency, which he founded in 1996. His clients include winners of the Pulitzer Prize, American Book Award, Pushcart Prize and O. Henry Award, finalists for the National Book Award, Edgar Award, Pacific Rim Prize, multiple New York Times bestsellers, national journalists, major celebrities, and faculty of universities ranging from Harvard to Stanford. He has worked as a Manager in the New York office of Artists Management Group, and has worked for another New York literary agency. Prior to becoming an agent he worked on the editorial side of several major publishers, including William Morrow and Farrar, Straus, Giroux, and as editor of a literary magazine.
He has been a guest speaker on the subjects of writing and publishing at numerous forums, including the Wallace Stegner writing program at Stanford University and the Writers Digest Conference at BookExpo America. He currently teaches a course online at Writers University. He earned his B.A. with High Honors in English and Creative Writing from Brandeis University, cum laude.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
148 of 157 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Far more than a writer's tool... September 2, 2002
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
How does a writer turn an idea into a plot? How many brilliant flashes of inspiration lead to books, movies, or plays? Not many because ideas wither away without great characters and events that drive the story forward. Although this book is plot development, Noah Lukeman addresses the threads that are woven throughout the story in order to create the fabric from which beautiful, lasting images are created.
He uses many examples from film because this is the media where life is visualized for the audience, and his "chief concern is illustrating (sometimes abstract) points." (Lukeman)
An example:
* A young man is unhappy and feels trapped in his rural life.
* He hungers for adventure.
* He is inducted into thrilling adventures by chance.
* He is part of a mystical adventure, for which he is unprepared.
* Circumstances force him to face his inadequacies.
* He gains friends and companions along the way.
* Ultimately he finds the confidence he needs to succeed.
* He saves the realm.
The ideas belongs to many stories from Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter to Star Wars, and more. The magic of each story is wrapped into the characters and the lives they live; they are real.
Each chapter and the introduction are deeper than I can show in a review. The book should be on every writer's desk.
Both chapters one (Characterization: The Outer Life) and two (Characterization: The Inner Life) are 90 percent questions. I decided that a great addition to the book would be a CD listing of all of the questions. However, as I read and contemplated the details a writer must know about the people who live in their stories, I realized that a CD would make it too easy.
Read more ›
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43 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic guide to character and plot development November 26, 2003
By shaw6
Format:Paperback
This should be on every writer's bookshelf. Noah Lukeman writes as though he's an ancient finger-wagging English teacher, so I was surprised to see the bookflap photo and find he's quite young.
Overlook the slightly disapproving tone, because the book is a gem. Few books are able to distil so much knowledge into such a short space.
Detailed character-building exercises take up a large chunk of the book, because Lukeman firmly believes that character is the plot. He doesn't just work through appearance and background, though he does this in detail. He also covers which characters to put together, major and minor characters, how often they should appear, who they should interact with and when, what they react to, etc.
Next he explains the different types of journey your characters can be on and how that affects the story, how to build suspense and develop conflict.
Each chapter has suggested exercises to practice what you've learned.
This deserves to be a classic.
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43 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Good Addition to the Literature July 1, 2002
Format:Hardcover
New writers do need advice about writing, the market, and structure. This is a shortcut to years spent cruising the learning curve. Noah's book is a nice addition to the books that serve the novice writer. G. Miki Hayden, author of Writing the Mystery, an Agatha and Macavity nominee.
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82 of 93 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A list of questions over and over and overand.... February 4, 2004
Format:Paperback
I can't help but feel that I was deceived by some of the other reviews of this book. Helpful they said. Great guide they said. I am not a well-published writer, but I found little in this book helpful.
The first half is composed of mostly questions to ask yourself, mostly about your characters. How does the character treat other characters? Who does he choose to spend time with? Does he have a disfiguring disease? Perhaps these questions could be useful in inventing a character to base a story off of or in developing characters as a beginning writer, but not to an experienced and reasonably-competent writer trying to flesh out an already existing idea.
Anyone who reads regularly will know most of this information already. It can help inspire new ideas though. The exercises aren't terrible, though they really just recap the rest of the writing.
He seems to push conflict and tension over the top. He actually recommends cliches. For instance, if a character has to cross a river in order to continue journeying with his colleagues, Lukeman recommends that the story migt benefit if the river has a rushing current AND is full of man-eating crocodiles AND the character is being chased by an army AND 90% of the people who try to cross die. A story full of super-high tension and rediculous obstacles and conflicts is not my idea of good writing. It's more like the formula for a Hollywood blockbuster for testosterone junkies too pumped-up to recognize the difference between plot and situational window dressing. Jeopardy isn't jeopardy unless we believe he might not succeed.
Even the title is misleading. This book is about how to start writing a story, not how tho thicken the plot. I liked "The First Five Pages" and did find that helpful for revising stories, especially the early parts. Lukeman just dropped the ball on this one.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Handly List of Prompts January 14, 2007
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I found this book useful for the fiction writer working on an extensive, detailed manuscript. The book is a lengthy set of prompts. It assumes the writer already understands something about structure and the writing process. The book assumes character is king and that plot emerges from character. If your technique is different from this, you may find the book irritating. If you need help fleshing out characterization to either augment or fundamentally build your story, this book is for you.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book for novices
This book gets really deep into the best way to make your fiction both readable and interesting, offering great examples and exercises.
Published 1 month ago by Robyn
5.0 out of 5 stars Great little Book!
Every writer of fiction needs to use this book for adding wonderful thought to character development. It is filled with powerful ideas which will make your story come to life. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Rene Pare
4.0 out of 5 stars An Unusual Approach
With an unusual approach to plotting, Lukeman uses a holistic, rather than a didactic, method. There is plenty of instruction and practical examples, as well as exercises, in the... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Judy Croome
5.0 out of 5 stars Lukeman, Plot thickens
As always, Mr. Lukeman is both a teacher and muse. This book is a must have to writers of any level.
Published 8 months ago by Allisgood
4.0 out of 5 stars STRAIGHT FORWARD Advise
This is the advice of a successful and insightful writers agent and novelist
he does an excellent job on that point also. I was not disappointed.
Published 10 months ago by Leon F. Davis
4.0 out of 5 stars Good for character sheets
This book is very detailed in providing questions that make you think about the backstory of your characters.

Think of it like an indepth (very indepth) character sheet.
Published 13 months ago by Bunny-Gypsy
5.0 out of 5 stars Treasure
This book has helped me a lot. It is very useful for getting to know your characters better and showing you how to take those ideas out of your head and onto the page.
Published 14 months ago by Annie
5.0 out of 5 stars My Go-To
Now, I'm not a New York Times best-selling author (the only thing I've written that approximated publication quality was a master's thesis), but every time I start a fiction piece,... Read more
Published 15 months ago by himmelsgrau
4.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly Good
After The First Five Pages, I swore I'd never read another word by Noah Lukeman. A friend recommended this and I caved. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Deckem Bill
1.0 out of 5 stars For Beginners Only
If you have written anything at all, indeed, if you have read anything at all, this book will not make you a better, more knowledgeable fiction writer. Read more
Published on December 23, 2011 by Kim Horner McCoy
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