Re:Fiction - The Fiction Writers' Magazine

Review: "Write Great Fiction - Plot & Structure" by James Scott Bell

Target Audience

Beginner Writers

About

At some point, any budding fiction writer comes to an impasse in their writing. It might happen around the second rewrite of a novel or the first round of edits on a short story, but, eventually, many of us find out what’s holding our story back is the plot. It’s dry, uninspired, overcomplicated. How can that be fixed? 

Write Great Fiction - Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell is a fantastic starting guide for writers who want to learn the basics of plotting and structuring a story. Bell deconstructs what makes a story work, he presents multiple ways to view fiction with concise examples from successful works, and provides exercises to help you better understand his lessons. 

Included in this guide book are:

  • Scenes

  • Plotting systems

  • Plot patterns

  • Checklist for critical points

Bell’s advice accounts for any stage of the plotting and structuring process that may give first-time novelists a problem. In the case of beginner writers, Bell contends that it’s better to step back and relearn the basics before making your plot work with your story.

Pros

If you’ve never written a novel before, Plot & Structure is a reliable beginner's guide to plotting. The advice Bell offers is applicable and relevant. He covers what plot is, the different types of plots, and how to juggle multiple storylines in a story. His tips take into account the anxieties that accompany novel writing, and he supplies the reader with personal anecdotes from his own journey. Bell never dissuades a reader from advice outside his books––only offering alternatives for tips that hinder a reader’s progress.

The guide is well-organized and linear. Along with the basic formula of a plot, Bell suggests techniques to revise your plot and story structure. To make the process easier, he even offers a different perspective of revision and editing your work in progress. Instead of seeing it as a tedious chore you have to check off your list, you should think of revision as an exciting way to spice up your writing. You can control how you view your scene and give it the creativity it deserves and that readers will enjoy.

The guide also has a section for exercises you can apply to your own writing. From character arcs to complex plots, Bell offers three activities at the end of each chapter, also delving into what makes each exercise work.

Cons

Bear in mind, Plot & Structure is definitely for beginner novelists––it doesn’t leave much room for development after you internalize Bell’s advice. Sure, you have different ways to diagram your plot, but beyond the exercises, the guide doesn’t do anything to advance you beyond entry-level critical thinking. His tips are fundamental, and for experienced writers, the tips in this book are redundant. 

Some advice calls the readers to use a formula: technical paradigms on how a story is set up and structured. Again, while it’s useful for readers who are just budding novelists, it can easily be a crutch in your writing if you rely on them. Writing, after all, is a liberal art––subverting age-old rules of prose and style is what makes a novel unique and memorable. A writer who relies on formulas will have stunted the growth of their skill and style.

Conclusion

I gave Write Great Fiction - Plot & Structure a try because as a novelist, I'm always looking to improve my craft. The premise of the book promises to take the reader by the hand and assure them that while it's not easy, plotting and structuring a novel isn't an impossible task. In this regard, James Scott Bell delivers on his promise. He explains what it means for a story to have a plot and structure, how multiple plots can still tell a coherent narrative, and how you should revise if you hit a plateau. It's worth the purchase if you've never written a novel before, but have ambitious ideas and the guts to put pen to paper.

Sharrisse Viltus is a freelance writer based in Honolulu, Hawai’i. She specializes in blog writing and articles about marketing, writing, and entertainment pieces. Before becoming a freelance writer, she graduated from Bridgewater State University with a B.A in English and Public Relations. When she isn't working on her own creative writing projects, you can find her napping at the beach. Visit her website at http://sharrisseviltus.com.

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