Book Review: Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell

Welcome to Writers’ Uni-Verse-City (or WUVC for short because every university has an acronym), a place where writers/bloggers can meet to discuss the craft of writing in the Internet age. WUVC will involve independent research, setting a curriculum and hopefully finding other participants (like you – readers/bloggers/writers) to: chip in, give tips, suggest books and other materials for study, teach me the ways of the warrior writer, and offer to guest post here at Uni-Verse-City (contact: annotationseditorial@gmail.com).

James Scott Bell’s book, “Plot and Structure” is like an instruction manual. It has very specific tips and methods on how to write and plot. There were also numerous examples to help explain the concepts.

Because this is a book to study, it took me a long time to read and also because it was very dense. I like a few short examples to make the light bulb go off, but when a good third of the book is re-quoting chunks from other books, that’s a bit much for me.

Also because it was so instructional, I found that most of the tips didn’t resonate with me specifically. Everyone has his or her own techniques and this book might be good for someone who is just starting out or doesn’t have any personal methods established yet.

There were a few concepts that really hit home: driving as far as the headlights. Was one method of plotting Bell describes and that’s exactly how I’ve plotted my first novel so far. So it was interesting to see a name for it and that other people do it that way too.

I also found the descriptions of the different types of stories there are very helpful. For example, there is the quest, the adventure, mystery, thriller, romance, fantasy, etc. It was interesting and convenient to have the core concepts or requirements for these types of stories all in one place for reference.

Bell also recommends keeping a writer’s notebook: “you can be jotting notes and placing information in it all the way through the finished product.”  He details how one can organize the notebook into plot ideas, characters, etc.

I think a writers’ notebook is a great idea and it should be mentioned and even the types of things that could go into the notebook, but giving the exact sections of a notebook is getting a little too instructional for me. Maybe it’s because I already have a “writer’s notebook” per say and I do put these types of notes in there, even though they aren’t categorized.  Yes, categorizing would probably make life easier, but then I feel like by the time I flip to the correct section and find a blank page, I will have lost my creative thought.

Bell also details his LOCK system (which Kristen Lamb outlined very well in this post).  I can see how having a strong Lead with an Objective and Conflicts getting in the way which result in a Knockout endings can strengthen a book and even each scene. These concepts make sense, but I also wonder if this applies to each and every genre? Bell writes thrillers, which are often highly enjoyed by male readers and of course by females as well.

However, I’m personally writing fiction which I think will appeal more so to women than men based on the fact that the lead is a twenty-something female with a not-so-thrilling job (ie. Not a sexy FBI agent that would inevitably have lots of conflict). I also wonder if these craft books written by men for other fiction writers can be fully applied to women’s fiction or romance for example?

Maybe I’m being too critical of this book because I read it on a Kindle app and so it made it more difficult to read, take notes and learn from. But it could also be possible that I’ve passed the “novice” stage of writing and moved to the “intermediate” stage since I have developed some personal techniques for getting the work done? I can’t be too sure, but I did take about 12 pages of notes on this book, with some methods noted that I need to try out, and I will be reviewing these notes time and time again.

So overall James Scott Bell’s book is very details with lots of examples and is probably good for brand new writers or pantsers for that matter. But for those writers who have already developed some of their own techniques, you may find that you find a few things that click and that the rest is just good to know.

I’m sure my opinion differs from others. Have you read Plot and Structure? What did you think of it? (What stage would you say you’re at in your writing, novice, intermediate, advanced? Which genre do you write in?)

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About Nicole Basaraba

Nicole Basaraba is a Canadian writer focusing on topics of travel (Mondays), writing and literature (Wednesdays), lifestyle (Fridays) and her experiences living in the capital city of Europe: Brussels, Belgium.
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8 Responses to Book Review: Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell

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  2. Kathy says:

    The question of whether craft books written by men can be applied equally to women’s fiction is interesting. I remember a professor saying that traditional plot structure is male-oriented, and that the loose, flowing structure of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse relates to the feminine. The traditional seems easier to handle, since it provides a definite structure; you can more easily see where you’ve fallen short. Plotting is my weak point, so I probably need to read Bell’s book. Thanks for the review.

    • I’m glad you mentioned what your professor said because it means I’m not the only one asking this question. Now you’ve made me want to add To the Lighthouse to my to-read list. Maybe I will even try to employ one of Bell’s suggestions: to analyze the book scene by scene to find the plot and structure. Then maybe I will see the light.

  3. Hartford says:

    Interesting and timely to read your review since that’s next on my list of craft books to read and I am very much a beginner so it’ll be interesting to see if I find it a bit more helpful or if it falls slightly flat as well. It’ll be a few weeks likely before I get into it but I’ll try to remember to come back and give you my take on it as well.
    Really appreciate the honest review! Happy weekend!

    • Glad you could find my review useful. I was a little nervous to write such a honest review about a one of the most highly recommended craft books out there. But I really didn’t find it as useful as I expected it to be and maybe because of all the hype around it, is why I ended up being less satisfied. I did learn somethings though and I’m sure more things will click when I re-read my notes.

      Do let me know how you find it after you read it. 🙂

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  6. Katy says:

    Well im 13 and i am using this for my exam coming up. I have an english exam and it is about book reviews. do u have any information fo me??

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