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275 of 279 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's time to plot your next book!
Bell starts from the assertion that anyone can learn to craft a good plot. Whether you prefer to plan every detail of your stories in advance or fly by the seat of your pants, you can still learn all the elements of an engaging story and use them to draw your reader in. Bell has spent a great deal of time analyzing the plot structures of those books that consistently draw...
Published on June 8, 2005 by H. Grove (errantdreams)

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306 of 325 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars not for everyone
Even though this book is titled "Plot", only a few chapters deal with plot. The others are brief chapters on the usual topics: characters, scenes, beginnings, middles, endings, etc.

Every Writers Digest Book regardless of the title is 200 pages long and has brief chapters on these same topics. Writers Digest Books has been re-cycling the same information for...
Published on February 23, 2006 by bookloversfriend


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275 of 279 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's time to plot your next book!, June 8, 2005
Bell starts from the assertion that anyone can learn to craft a good plot. Whether you prefer to plan every detail of your stories in advance or fly by the seat of your pants, you can still learn all the elements of an engaging story and use them to draw your reader in. Bell has spent a great deal of time analyzing the plot structures of those books that consistently draw people in, and he has come up with a number of systems, theories and exercises which he shares in this book.

Bell addresses just about every aspect of plotting I could think of, from "What's a Plot, Anyway?" to generating ideas, dealing with beginnings (and middles, and endings), handling individual scenes, crafting complex plots, integrating character arc into plot, different systems of crafting plot, revising plots, plot patterns, plot problems, cures for plot problems, and even checklists to go through to make sure you're remembering everything as you write your book.

One of Bell's major contributions to plot theory is his "LOCK" system, which stands for Lead, Objective, Confrontation, Knockout. In order to have a gripping plot you must have a lead, he must have an objective, there must be confrontation, and the ending must have "knockout power." There are a million-and-ten possible variations on this simple structure, but this basic idea alone can help a struggling writer to get a grip on the basics of plot.

I highly recommend "Plot & Structure" for anyone who writes or plans to write fiction. It's been a while since I sat down to write fiction, but this book makes me want to sit and work on a novel right this moment. It's clear, coherent, practical, and immensely useful to any student of the craft.
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238 of 241 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must have. No exaggeration!, March 30, 2007
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From the multitude of writing books I've read, this one ranks in my top 5 of all time books on the craft. The author does an excellent job of breaking down what we as authors/readers too often make an overly complex process. He explains why some stories just work and how we as aspiring author can do the same.

One of my pet peeves with any non-fiction book is the use of too many examples to fill pages vs. giving me hard content I can walk away with and attempt to use. This isn't the case here. I felt that 90% of the book was pure content with a sprinkle of examples to further prove the author's point. Thank you Mr Bell!!

You can click "Look Inside This Book" at the top of this product page and you should. The author deftly covers the whole gambit of What's a Plot, Anyway? to Plotting Systems (a great chapter regardless on your style of plotting), to Tips & Tools for Plot and Structure.

As with the rest of the books in the series, the icing on the cake for the impatient ones in the world is Appendix A, which lists the authors main points in the book in bulletted form. For those of us who stick with it, this was a wonderful summary of the previous 200pages we just journeyed through.

My recommended plotting plan:

1) Read this book for an overview of plotting and some real world tools that can be applied to the process

2) Pick up The Marshall Plan of Novel Writing by Evan Marshal or First Draft in 30 Days by Karen Weisner. Both of these books take many of the concepts listed in this book and put them into templates and forms you can fill out to plot your novel

3) Write. Write. Write.

Don't do what I did and spend the last ten years reading more on writing than actually writing. Get that first 1 million words written asap!! While you are doing it, read this book which has a permanent place on my book shelf as a handy reference and reminder of what makes a successful plot.
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306 of 325 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars not for everyone, February 23, 2006
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Even though this book is titled "Plot", only a few chapters deal with plot. The others are brief chapters on the usual topics: characters, scenes, beginnings, middles, endings, etc.

Every Writers Digest Book regardless of the title is 200 pages long and has brief chapters on these same topics. Writers Digest Books has been re-cycling the same information for thirty years, each time with a new title and a different author. (And now they're calling it "Great"!) Even one of the admiring reviews below admits that all of this information has already appeared in other books! When are readers going to figure out that they are buying the same stuff over and over?

If you're a beginning writer and are reading this material for the first time, that's fine. If not, it's time to break out of the Writers Digest cycle and get on with your career. For instance, Donald Maass's Writing the Breakout Novel is a better book on plot and it doesn't waste your time with chit-chat. Draughon's Advanced Writing ( Advanced Writing: Fiction and Film )will help you understand what you're doing and why and enable you to do it better. Rennie Browne's Self-Editing for Fiction Writers will teach you how to revise.

And by the way, "structure" is poorly understood even by professional writers. Beginning-middle-end is not structure. What is structured is the dynamic elements of a novel and its various appeals.

So, unless you're a beginner and new to WDB, look beyond Writers Digest Books for the next step up in your development.
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41 of 43 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bell is a great teacher! You will learn how to structure your novel, August 29, 2006
By 
Bill Garrison (Oklahoma City, OK USA) - See all my reviews
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Plot and Structure is a Writers Digest Book by James Scott Bell. While he touches on many topics, the focus of the book is how to structure your novel to hook your readers and how you can create a riveting plot by giving it structure. Bell peppers this book with examples from literary greats Stephen King and Dean Koontz and many other popular authors.

As with most writing books, this book won't teach you everything and some things you'll find helpful and some things you won't. Some of the lessons I took away were how to structure your book in three acts, how each scene must contain suspense, and of course how you should show, not tell. Also, your hero and villian must have adhesive, ie, there must be a reason the hero can't just walk away from the villain. Bell also emphasizes the importance of constantly looking for ideas to make your plot original and to not be afraid to let your mind wander and fill your story with some crazy, outrageous ideas. You can always cut them out later.

Bell is a strong advocate that you can learn to write well. While some people are born great writers and some aren't, even the best writers have to hone their craft and develop their potential. So, if through trial and error or rejection slips has caused you to think you weren't born to be a great writer, you may be wrong. This book will help you evolve into the great writer you were born to be, or at least improve upon your current meandering novel.

This is fun book to read and Bell is a great teacher.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent resource, December 1, 2006
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Nancy C. Beck (Northwestern New Jersey) - See all my reviews
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Two novel ideas ago, I had to put that one aside because I stuffed it to the point where the story made no sense. I intend to go back to it at some point, but for now, it's collecting dust.

Also collecting dust is my more recent idea. I started with an outline (of sorts), wrote and rewrote it a few times...only to get stuck on Chapter 8 or so. I didn't know where to take the story. This one will probably never get resurrected...but you never know.

Which leads me to one of the best things in this book: outlining with index cards. There's at least one other book touting this, but I'm sure there are others that do. What sets this one apart, in my mind, is his suggestions on how to set it up. This doesn't comprise a huge part of the book, but it made enough sense to me that I decided to give it a whirl.

Almost 50,000 words later, I'm still chugging along, taking into mind his ideas (I'd never heard it put quite this way) about doorways of no return (more on that in a moment). Sure, I've made some changes, throwing out cards, rearranging cards, adding cards. That's the beauty of this system: it's not set in granite. If your muse takes you in a way that's different from what you originally wrote, go for it!

Mr. Bell explains the doorways simply, at first, as transitions - from beginning to middle and then middle to ending. The first doorway gets your Main Character from beginning to middle; the idea is to create a scene where the MC is thrust into conflict in a way that keeps him/her there. With the second doorway (middle to ending), something has to happen to set up the final confrontation. It's usually a huge clue, a big piece of information, or a major crisis that sends the MC hurtling towards the conclusion. Mr. Bell explains these in greater detail, and I found his explanations quite understandable.

But there's more to this book than that. Mr. Bell gets into how to come up with plot ideas, character arcs, revising, plot problems and cures, scenes, and tips and tools. I wasn't bothered by his reusing some of the same good writing examples, but it may make you cringe or roll your eyes.

Other than that minor quibble, I think everything else about this book makes it shine as a writer's resource.
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25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Plot and Structure . . . and a whole lot more., November 22, 2004
By 
Randall Ingermanson (San Diego, CA United States) - See all my reviews
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PLOT & STRUCTURE is billed as a how-to book on writing fiction, focusing on plotting and story structure. And it does all that as well as any book I've ever seen. But what I really like about the book is how well it integrates plotting with all the other skills a novelist needs to master--creativity, research, character development, theme, and the logistics to put it all together.

James Scott Bell begins with an inspirational "you can do it" chapter that will light a novel-writing fire in the belly of any life form more complex than a squid. He then takes two full chapters to give some hands-on explanations of what a Plot is and why it needs Structure. The next chapter, on how to stimulate your creativity (and how NOT to), is pure gold. This chapter applies to all areas of writing, not just your plotting.

Bell then moves on to the staples of plotting, with chapters on the high-level issues of Beginnings, Middles, Ends, and the lower-level problem of how to write a Scene. You can find books elsewhere that explain some of this in more detail, but you won't find a BETTER explanation anywhere. Bell consistently gets to the heart of the matter, says his piece, and gets out.

Having laid a solid foundation, Bell moves on to other aspects of writing, showing how each ties in to Plot: Theme, Complexity, and Character. He presents two chapters on the logistics of writing--one for the initial creation of the novel, and one for the analysis and revision after the thing is written and is lying on your desk in a heap of writhing manuscript. A chapter with a standard catalog of plot patterns rounds out this section.

James Scott Bell is an accomplished novelist who has paid those pesky writing dues several times over. In the next-to-last chapter, he makes a down payment on YOUR dues--by giving you a very practical list of things that can go wrong and what you can do to fix them. He wraps up with a punchlist of tips you can use to move your level of writing up a notch.

I've published half a dozen novels and my seventh is on the operating table awaiting the knife. Bell's book has me itching to get scrubbed and go commit some surgery right this instant.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars JSB Dispels The Lie!, August 29, 2006
There are a lot of books out there whose author claims they'll teach you how to write a novel. It's been my experience that most of them are full of fluff.

Not this one.

In the book's introduction Bell speaks about The Lie. I've heard. I know you've heard it. Or at least felt it as you looked at your writing and that of published authors.

The Lie is that writers are born. In other words you can't be taught how to write. You either can do it or you can't. End of story. Bell confesses that he burned ten years of writing time in belief of this lie.

That comforts me. I've always written something. It started with what we now call journaling. Then went to poetry and song writing. Then short stories and scripts. Finally novels.

But somewhere along the way I bought The Lie. I didn't know any of the techiques and methods. I didn't know what to do with a manuscript once I finished one. So I never did.

Until this year. I have one completed novel manuscript and two more in the works. I own this accomplishment, in part, to James Scott Bell's Plot & Structure put out by Writer's Digest.

He wanted to make things simple and accessible for the average Joe. I believe he accomplishes this goal. I now understand things that for a long time eluded me. Things like Character Arcs and the Three Act Structure. I'd read other books claiming to explain these things and came to the final page of said books scratching my head.

That one novel I've finished? I was writing it when I picked a copy of P & S. One piece of advise changed my manuscript immediately. I had a good idea. I just didn't start the thing in a way that would compel must folks to want to continue after the first paragraph. With Bell's advice in hand, I rewrote the first chapter and saw a whole new novel and greater potential.

And that was just one piece of advice. He covers everything I could think to ask if I could sit with him for a couple hours and pick his brain. And more I never thought of.

He explains what a plot is. Developing plot ideas. Stong beginnings. Continuing middles (arguably one of the most difficult things about writing a novel). And ending well so that you and the reader resolve the plot.

He provides several pieces of advice to help you learn plot. He explains a simple way to develop plot, The LOCK system. He talks about characters, settings, dialogue, action, reaction. He discusses various plots that are used over and over again successfully. He shares what he calls the BELL Pyramid in the chapter on ideas. He covers hooks to keep your reader turning those pages. He explains scenes in detail; the different kinds and how they work.

There is so much to this amazing book. I haven't given you half of what's in there. I want you to find out for yourself.

By this book!

If you've ever dreamed of writing a novel, this book will give you the tools and teach you how to use them properly.

After reading Plot & Structure I emailed JSB to thank him for writing such a wonderful, practical book. He responded, that same evening I believe, with a very kind note of thanks and well wishes for my own writing. I heard he was a nice guy. Now I know it's true. :-) Not that I've ever doubted it. Too many authors I know have said so.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive, Understandable, and Interesting, July 5, 2005
By 
Ruth M. Brown (Washington, DC United States) - See all my reviews
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Like a lot of aspiring novelists, I've collected, read, and reread a lot of books on fiction technique. I've read many of the books that Bell lists early on in his book as worthwhile how-to manuals for author wannabes. I've learned enough through study and writing experience to become rather choosy of any new books I buy, since so many principles of good writing are to be found over and over in a lot of previously published good writing books. Plot & Structure was not only interesting and encouraging, but original in ways too numerous to mention here. Bell is quite obviously a Dean Koontz fan, and frequently cites Koontz's work as examples of good plotting and structure. I've never read a Dean Koontz novel, but I've recently acquired two to read in the near future. Bell is also a big believer in prologues or in first chapters that serve the purpose of a prologue to the rest of the story. For beginning, intermediate, and advanced students of fiction technique, I wholeheartedly recommend Plot & Structure. I am planning to read the other three books in this series (Write Great Fiction), even though Mr. Bell did not write them. I appreciate his reference to both classic literature and noteworthy recent novels as examples of what makes a story hold the reader and make them want more of the same. When you've read this book, you will no longer wonder what makes one book a bestseller and what makes another book do poorly. You will be able to judge your own work much more objectively and know how to improve it without guessing what it lacks. I most appreciate Mr. Bell's statement that a writer should continue to study and improve his craft for as long as he or she intends to write. If you read only one book on plotting and structure (and you should certainly read more than one) I recommend this one for scope and clarity. Five stars, very well deserved!
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of three writing books I can't live without!, March 29, 2007
Like a lot of my peers, I love books about writing. And also like my peers, I have my favorites and host of others I think are terrible.

Okay... maybe terrible isn't the right word. A matter of taste? In any case, I don't like 'em.

I'm skipping some of the biggies, namely Stephen King's ON WRITING and Anne Lamott's BIRD BY BIRD. Both those books are on all of our bookshelves and I've never seen a writer badmouth either one. Just assume I love them, too.

As a general rule, the writing books I hate are the ones that tell me how to write... or, I should say, talk about the process of writing without couching the text with the caveat that it's how the author writes.

On the other hand, the ones I love the most are the books that help me solve a problem. The first writing book that ever fit that bill for me was James Scott Bell's PLOT & STRUCTURE.

I remember standing in the book store one afternoon and cracking this book open to read the introduction. He titled it "Putting The Big Lie To Sleep."

How's that for a grabber?

What he wrote described my writing life. He told the story of how he'd wasted valuable years of his own writing life because he had the misfortune of being informed in college that writing cannot be taught... that either ya got it or ya don't got it.

It was actually worse for me because it was my own wrong thinking that dissuaded me from pursuing fiction writing further. I can remember sitting in a fiction class while in college and reading a fellow student's short story for critique.

His beautiful prose, his command of language, his seemingly effortless craft... it floored me.

I also remember thinking to myself, "I don't think I can ever be this good." By the way, I can't remember a thing about that guy's story except that it had chess in it.

So, there, sometime in late 2005, in the middle of Barnes & Noble, it was spelled out to me that all these years--fifteen years to be more exact--were nothing more than hogwash. And like I said, I'd been the one that did to me.

But getting to the more practical matters, the book is rife with exercises and examples that illuminate the concepts Bell teaches in the book... from basic story structure and plotting (duh), to character arc, to plotting systems, to troubleshooting common mistakes. It doesn't always help me solve a problem now, but it was a significant find for me in believing I can write fiction again.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars While I've just started this book, it's been a great help and inspiration!, March 15, 2007
James Scott Bell's excellent Plot & Structure volume has helped me where courses, software and other books have not.

His simple LOCK system immediately clicked and after reading the first four chapters yesterday, I found myself awake early this morning writing a more detailed story/synopsis for a screenplay by effortlessly incorporating this system and several other key concepts listed within the first four chapters.

I also found immense relief in Mr. Bell's mention that having hundreds of ideas is a good thing. It's hard for me to settle in with just one idea, but I find that having so many ideas come to the forefront is now a gift rather than a setback.

Beyond shutting up my internal censor and making time to write, plotting was my greatest nemesis. I can clearly see this won't be the case following the principles set forth here.

True, I have not completed the book, but I feel like this is the best $11.55 ever spent on my writing education. To see this much of a transformation in my fiction, in hours I'm convinced. I'm looking forward to finishing Plot & Structure and my first screenplay :)
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