Of all the books on how to write fiction, I keep returning to James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure again and again. Why? It motivates me. I can’t sit and read its pages for very long before ideas bombard me, scenes play out in my mind’s eye, and characters hiss their secrets and problems in my ear. Something about the way Bell writes fires up my muse. It’s like he’s sitting and talking to me, tutoring me one-on-one on how to write a novel.
He begins the book with exposing the “Big Lie”—that writing can’t be taught.
“I was so ticked off about the Big Lie that I started teaching others what I’d learned about the craft of writing,” he writes.
What does it take to learn how to plot? Just do it, he says. Sit down and write. Write every day. Set a word goal and write.
“First get it written, then get it right,” he advises. “Don’t spend too much time worrying and fretting and tinkering with your first draft.”
Sound like you? Yeah, me too.
In the fourteen chapters following the exposure of the Big Lie, Bell discusses
* What holds your plot together
* LOCK (Lead, Objective, Confrontation, and Knockout)
* How to explode with ideas
* How to begin strong, muddle the middle, and end well
* Setting up scenes
* Character arc
* Whether or not to outline (There are two types of novel writers, he says: OP people and NOP people—Outline People and No Outline People—I fall into the latter category.)
* Plot patterns
* Plot problems and cures
“A good story is life with the dull parts taken out,” he writes, quoting Alfred Hitchcock.
I tucked a small legal pad (the size of the book) inside the back cover and kept a pencil in hand to jot down the ideas that came to me as I read. Sometimes I had to put the book down and hurry to the computer to record the scene that was swirling around in my head.
I wrote two novels with Plot & Structure within reach. Whenever I’d get stuck, I’d flip through the pages and start reading. Before long, I wasn’t stuck anymore.
In time I learned to trust my muse—to hear, listen to, and follow my characters. That’s when I learned I was a NOP. For me, writing fiction is akin to getting up on a horse, pointing it in the direction I want to go, slapping its behind, and letting it gallop where it will.
I’m getting ready to start my third novel. I’ve already taken down my dog-eared, highlighted, bleeding-with-red-ink copy of Plot & Structure from my bookshelf, bought a new notepad and sharpened my pencils.
For more information on James Scott Bell and how to obtain your copy of Plot & Structure, click here to visit his website. He's got a great page for writers, too.