James Scott Bell: Plot & Structure

“Plot happens.”  That’s how James Scott Bell begins the first chapter of Plot & Structure, a volume in Writer’s Digest Books Write Great Fiction series.

Whether you are a plotter, a pantser, or somewhere in between, without a plot, you won’t have much to offer your readers. Those readers, Bell says, are asking, consciously or not, what the story is about, what is happening, and why they should care.  Those are plot questions, and plot is essential in commercial fiction.

Bell boils plot down to what he calls the LOCK system: Lead (a strong protagonist), Objective (often to get something or to get away from something), Confrontation (conflict, obstacles, opposition), and Knockout (a strong, satisfying ending).  As a minimalist example, he quotes a “novel” written by his four-year-old son:  “Robin Hood went riding.  A bad guy came.  They fought.  He won.”  A few technical problems, true, but it hits all the high points.

Plot & Structure expands on these four elements throughout the book, with examples from a wide variety of authors.  Bell also covers techniques from the three-act structure to the character arc, single versus multiple point of view, commercial versus literary plot structure, varied methods for planning and outlining, tips for genres, plot patterns, etc.

Plot & Structure is a comprehensive and very useful volume, well organized and readable, packed with ideas and tips, and worth rereading.  I picked up my copy used at Half Price Books (I can’t help myself; my car takes me there on autopilot at least twice a month), but the book is in print and available on line.  Bell is the author of a considerable number of mystery and suspense novels as well as the recent Revision and Self-Editing in the Write Great Fiction series.

Kay Hudson is a pantser one week and a plotter the next, but always a hopeless book junkie.  She knows she will never catch up with her To Be Read shelves, and buys more books anyway.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

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