Top positive review
23 people found this helpful
Solid and useful
on September 27, 2007
I have used this book to teach plotting to creative writing students, so my review is based on how well absolute novice writers respond to the ideas he puts forth in this book. On the whole, they respond positively. Once they grasp the standard three-act structure of a plot, they find his scene-sequel formula to be IMMENSELY helpful figuring out how to work out options for rising action. A few students complain that they don't like being taught a *formula*, and it seems a few reviewers have that gripe as well.
I'll say here what I say in class. First, if a formula happens to have been successful (as you can see if you break down almost any movie or popular novel), eh, maybe just this once it might be worth your time to learn it. Just file it away somewhere or something. Second, just because Bickham advocates a linear tic-tock scene-sequel way of composing your plot, that does not mean, nor does Bickham anywhere say, that you have to TELL the story in simple lockstep straightforward chronology. Once you have the basic idea of what's going to happen and why, you can start the story whenever you darn well please. You can start just at the climax, if you want, and tell the story through disconnected flashbacks, so that readers have to piece together the shards into the picture of the story arc. You can tell the story as an epistolary novel. You can tell it by varied protagonists. The only limit is imagination of the author. If you hate this book because you can't figure out new and creative ways to apply his basic formula, that doesn't necessarily equate with the *book* being worthless.
My students are grateful because (and remember they're all fledgling writers) this book's ideas give them handles to grasp when they sit down to write. I don't advocate the whole 'scene goal clearly stated to the reader' thing Bickham states, but if you as the WRITER have no idea what the scene goal is, or how things are going to wind up worse for the protagonist, chances are pretty high there will be a high Flounder Quotient in your plotting. All in all, it's worth your time and money as long as you are willing to view it as a plotting aid device and not the Magic Potion of Writing. It's a skeleton upon which one can reliably hang decent stories: my students are invariably impressed at the end of the semester both at their own ingenuity in storytelling and how they managed to create a story that *moves* and unfolds logically.