Review: Plot and Structure, James Scott Bell

Review: Plot and Structure, James Scott Bell

Do you find that when you start a piece of writing you are sure of your plot and structure of your story? Do you find that after a only a few chapters (or paragraphs!) you are writing another story altogether? If any of this sounds familiar, this article is for you.

When I first started to become a writer a problem I ran into was that the first three sections in a piece were just great, but over time the story started to wander. This issue would tend to magnify in relation to the length of the piece of work.  I needed advice from a professional writer, or instructor, but I didn’t know any.

The problem, at least in part, was that although I thought I knew what I was setting out to write my actual conception of the overall plot was weak. I knew the end I wanted and many of the plot points along the way, but as soon as the story started my writing seem to go on to wander a path all of its own.

In short, I needed a system.

Plot and Structure

Plot & Structure: (Techniques And Exercises For Crafting A Plot That Grips Readers From Start To Finish) (Write Great Fiction)

Well, one of the first books I bought in this area was “Plot and Structure” by James Scott Bell.

It is no exaggeration to say that when I read this book I thought I had discovered the “Holy Grail” of writing books (yes, I was a newbie). Plot and Structure suddenly illuminated areas of the writing process I had never even considered.

For instance, are you a NOP or an OP kind or person? It is ok to be confused by those words, they are terms from the book. An OP is an “outline person” and a NOP is a “no outline person”. Mr Bell shows how plotting can still be relevant even if you are a NOP kind of person.

Plot and Structure deals with the usual beginnings, middles and ends of a story but it goes a lot further. The book also deals with techniques for tightening tension and increasing interest, developing characters through plot events, motifs, themes, dialogue and also suggestions on how to generate new plot ideas.

An interesting technique that Mr Bell illustrates for developing plot is the “LOCK” system. This stands for Lead, Objective, Confrontation and Knockout. This acronym is well developed in the book and makes for a very useful addition to the aspiring writers’ toolkit.

Plot and structure gives a brief tour of everything you might need to gain a basic knowledge of writing a longer piece of work. Obviously within 230 pages or so these topics cannot be dealt with in great depth, but this takes nothing away from the book.

It is a great book and one that I learned a great deal from. I can recommend it without reservation for anyone that is having trouble with plot and structure.

Dave Felton.

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4 Responses to Review: Plot and Structure, James Scott Bell

  1. Thanks for the recommendation, Dave! I bought this book not too long ago and stopped reading it around chapter four due to wanting to give Feist’s Magician a read, but I think I’m jumping back onto the wagon to finish it up for good.

    It has an inspiration for a newbie writer like myself and hopefully it will continue to be.

    I’m curious, though. Have you read any of the other books in the series? I’m thinking about purchasing a few in the future, but I’m on the fence. I know it is going to be helpful in some form, but I don’t know if it will slow down my writing. Ha, sounds like I have a scheduling problem more than anything, huh?

  2. Dave says:


    You are most welcome. I only review books on this site that I have actually found useful – this one was a gem, at least to me.

    Yes, I have read other books in the “Write Great Fiction” series and I am a fan of Writers Digest books generally. Looking at my bookshelf in this room I can see five from this series on the shelf including Mr Bell’s other book on Self Editing. They are all pretty good, except one which shall remain nameless. 🙂

    Scheduling is an issue for me too. I think many writers suffer with this and it stops them achieving as much as they should.

    Have a read of Dorothea Brande’s book – “Becoming a Writer“. Developing the habit of writing will help you more than anything else and Dorothea’s work is probably the single best book on the subject – but only if you do the exercises she suggests. It helped me change from a 400 word a month wannabee into a 4-5,000 word a day semi-pro. (My grammar and proofreading skills still suck. I just write more rubbish these days!) 🙂

  3. Haha. I think I know of which book you’re talking about. I read a few of the reviews on Amazon and only one of them seemed to get bad marks from a couple of people. I found an alternative book written in a similar series that I may pick up instead.

    Speaking of Dorothea Brande’s book, I recently ordered it per your recommendation as well. 🙂 I’m really excited for it to come in the mail and I definitely plan on doing each exercise available. I’ve been trying to do that with Bell’s and it really helps to reinforce what I learn. That and it is actually making me write stuff for a book idea that I’ve been playing with!

    No matter what, I’m going to stick to this and see it through. Your posts, believe it not, have helped me a lot and you already know that I’m checking out the books in your toolbox. Great stuff.

  4. Dave says:

    There are indeed some real stinkers. One book I read was basically a diary that read similar to this “Woke up and had a coffee to get over my hangover. Walked to the wine bar, drank a few glasses of wine with friends. Felt guilty for not writing, so went to supermarket and bought a few bottles of red. Should make me feel better. Invited writer friends around tonight to discuss writing. Drank two bottles of red wine. Lots of discussion, but not much on paper yet…” I kid you not. What possible use is that to someone looking to learn anything about becoming a writer?

    By contrast, Dorothea Brandes book is awesome because it is so simple. Anyone that can read, can be a writer. Skill is something that can be developed with practice. While a lot of us will never reach the heights of some of the greats, there is little stopping us from being moderately successful. Developing the habit of writing is absolutely critical.

    I am really glad that you have had some use out of that toolbox page. My aim was to put all the stuff that I had found useful on one page, so if someone asked for a recommendation I could just link that page. Guess it has served its purpose, although it does need some additions and changes as I have learned a bit more. The problem these days is that I write a lot, but little of it gets back onto my personal blog. It is all over the internet instead. 🙂