When my secondary school began a (short lived) creative writing club, I asked the teacher if there were any books she could recommend.
In response, my teacher reached into her bag and gave me her copy of Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell.
I was fifteen years old when I received this book – now, six years and a creative writing degree on – does this book still hold up?
What is a plot? Is there a difference between plotting for commercial fiction and literary fiction? Is there a way to fix a plot that has gone wrong?
In Plot and Structure, James Scott Bell offers his advice on what makes a memorable plot.
With examples from popular novels, handy checklists and hands-on guidance, this book offers a helping hand to writers in need of structure.
This book is a hammer in a toolkit.
It teaches you the basics that you need to nail down your words into a coherent, strong structure, providing a strong support for your other narrative tools to shine through.
That is to say, it is a very mechanical book.
Bell provides his reader with a number of strategies and exercises to help craft good plots – a number of which I still use to cover up those nasty plot holes.
Not only this, but his simple, teacher-esque style of writing, and choice to divide up each chapter into easy-to-read chunks, makes this a perfect book for beginners starting to learn the craft.
Albeit, not all of the advice he gives will be to your taste.
I find the LOCK system he creates – Lead Character, Objective, Conflict and Knockout Ending – to be too simplistic for the subtle complexities plots need to keep a reader engaged.
But, when I was just starting out, it was a good place to start. It took my imagination and put it into a coherent structure.
I believe that Plot and Structure provides a helpful and encouraging starting place for writers, particularly those who are uncertain about where to begin with their work.
If you know a young writer, or perhaps someone interested to know more about the nuts and bolts of what we do, then I recommend giving them this book.
It may provide the stepping stone they need to begin their writing journey.