Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell

By Ekta R. Garg

June 19, 2013

For the third book of The Write Edge Year-long Writing Workshop, I picked up Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell.  By tackling each of the main areas of writing a story—first the characters and their viewpoints, then the setting of a book, and now the plot and its structure—I hope to concentrate on the key elements that will help me write compelling stories for my readers.

I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  In fact I found myself looking forward to reading this book more than the first two I read for the workshop.  Author Bell published this book after the advent and rise of the Internet, which dramatically changes the approach and examples used.  Plot and Structure shares similar qualities Characters and Viewpoint and Setting in the fact that all three books require the consumption of pages in small amounts; I set a goal for 10 pages a day and broke that up into two parts of five pages each.  With that schedule I found it easy to make it through the book and still absorb much of what Bell had to say.

(Disclaimer: some of the quotes below are exact; others are my own paraphrasing/condensing of the actual quote.  Any mistakes are mine.)

I loved, for instance, his nutshell definitions of “plot” and “structure.”

“Plot is about elements, those things that go into the mix of making a good story even better,” Bell writes.  “Structure is about timing—where in the mix those elements go.”

In addition to writing advice and practical tips, Bell also shared many thoughts on who and what writers are as well as how they approach their stories.  In some of the best passages, he combines both to remind writers and encourage them in their pursuits.

“Novelists write actions and justify them.  How do you keep readers interested through [the middle]?  Stretch the tension and raise the stakes. …As a general rule you want the trouble to increase as the story moves along.”

Bell also reminds us why we write: in the end it’s something that happens at the gut level of a person.  As word artists we feel passion and emotions at a heart-deep level, and we translate that connection into stories that come from that level.  In helping our characters transform throughout the course of the plot, we change a little bit ourselves.  If we’re honest about that change and how it makes us feel, we have an extraordinary story to share with our readers.

“What makes a plot truly memorable is not the action but what the action does to the character.  We respond to the character who changes and emerges as a different person by the end.”

I would highly recommend this book to any writer who wants to improve in the craft.  Bell has some necessary thoughts for all writers to consider, and his irreverence, humor, and positive attitude will convince any writer that pursuing this craft, while at times difficult, truly is worth it.

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