Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Thursday Review - Plot and Structure

Join me in welcoming back Lynn Blackburn as our First Thursday of the Month Reviewer!

Plot and Structure
by James Scott Bell

The first writing book I bought was Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell. I could have borrowed it from the library, but I’m glad I didn’t. And, no, you may not borrow my copy. You may go out and buy your own. They aren’t expensive and if you give up a few mochas, you’ll have enough to order a copy and have change leftover.

My book is highlighted and dog-eared. Some pages have stains which I can only presume are chocolate. Because, let’s face it, when studying up on the craft, you need fuel. And chocolate is my writing fuel of choice. (Followed up by mochas, but I didn’t want to mention that because you may have to do without them for a few weeks since you’ll be buying this book soon.)

Now, some people balk at the idea of structure in their writing. And, believe it or not, I can understand that. I want to write the story in my head without worrying about whether or not it fits standard conventions. I mean, writing is art.

Isn’t it?

Sure it is.

But here’s where the real world crashes into my fantasy land.

Publishing is a business.

And as much as I love stories and believe a good story will carry a reader through a poorly written book, the reality is that publishers buy books that will sell. And most readers want an unpredictable storyline but a predictable progression from beginning to end. They may not realize it, but they do.

Now that you’re sufficiently depressed, grab a bite of dark chocolate and take heart.

Plot & Structure is a funny read and it’s full of ideas. Ideas to take the story in your head and structure it so it flows naturally for the reader. Suggestions for how to structure your plot if you are a detailed outliner or an intuitive, go with the flow kind of writer. As well as a few ideas for what to do when you want to throw the whole thing out the window.

One of the best parts about writing is that it is art. You can break the rules. But you need to know what they are before you break them.

Besides, you may find that the story in your head, the one that flows out of you without regard to rules, already has all the key components you need to structure a fabulous plot!

So what about you? Do you plot? Outline? Ignore conventions?

Don’t forget to join the conversation!

Lynn Huggins Blackburn has been telling herself stories since she was five and finally started writing them down. On her blog Out of the Boat she writes about faith and family while her blog Perpetual Motion documents the joys and challenges of loving and rearing a child with special needs. A graduate of Clemson University, Lynn lives in South Carolina where she writes, reads, knits, takes care of two amazing children, one fabulous man and one spoiled rotten Boston Terrier.


  1. I completely agree about learning the rules before breaking them. I have no issue with an author experimenting. However, let's not kid ourselves: a kid playing with dynamite is not the sort of experimentation most of us would think is "bold" or "groundbreaking." I think we'd more likely describe it as "dangerous" and "foolhearty." If you don't learn the rules, you don't even realize where you're deviating and you certainly can't do so on purpose for creative effect; it becomes more like shooting in the dark, hoping something hits a target.

    I like to use the example of a rose bush in discussions on art and rules. Roses have been considered one of the most beautiful flowers from ancient literature to the present. No gardener can take credit for the beauty of a rose: that's born in them, crafted by much better hands than ours. But anyone who's ever tended a rose bush knows that unless you carefully prune and train, no one will ever see those beautiful roses. They'll be hidden by thorns and branches. The rose may still be just as beautiful, but who's going to appreciate it? Similarly, certain parts of art are instictive and can't be learned. But that's only step one: relying completely on "natural" talent is about as productive as leaving a rose bush to grow itself. It takes time, patience, and humility to grown and learn as an artist, to the point that others can recognize the talent God already has seen.

  2. Michelle, thanks so much for the comments - you are right on target and I love your rose analogy!
    Lynn - great review - as always, I'm blessed to have you contribute!

  3. Michelle - love the rose analogy! Thanks for sharing.

  4. Lynn,

    Great job on this! I am a non-fiction writer but think I have to get this book because of your encouraging endorsement.