Sunday, June 22, 2008

Book Review: Plot & Structure

I was in the middle of completing a story for a science fiction contest, only to discover this morning that the deadline for submissions was last week (6/15), not this week (6/25). D@mmit. Anyhow, the story was improved greatly by James Scott Bell's Plot & Structure, which helps aspiring writers better organize their stories. It really is useful for "commercial" as opposed to "literary" fiction, as Bell's tips often don't apply to the stream-of-consciousness-who-cares-if-there's-a-story-as-long-as-the-language-is-pretty school of writing. You've got to want to write a specific story in a specific genre and accomplish specific things in a way that grabs and holds the reader. This is the essence of "commercial" fiction, and Bell's book got added to my library at a propitious moment. Of course it isn't Bell's fault that I finished the damned story late. That's a whole 'nother professionalism issue.

One of Bell's most useful bits of advice is "LOCK" - Lead, Objective, Confrontation, Knockout - which provides the basic structure of a plot: introduce your lead character, identify their objective, set them on a collision course with whatever's interfering with their objective through a series of setbacks, and then deliver the knockout punch that wins the day. And perhaps the most useful piece of advice for a conflict-averse writer like me was: Don't let your characters off easy. Meaning? Don't rely on the kindness of others or some Deus ex machina to bail out your character's central conflict.

Mind you, I was getting the same advice from a professional writing friend, but I'm a book-learning kind of guy, so having a more general text on the subject helped supplement her tactical advice on my particular story. Anyhow, if you're serious about turning out writing that will keep the reader reading, I highly recommend this book.

Now I just need to find another non-paying outlet for that stupid story. GAAAAHHHHH!!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I think I'm going to have to get this book. You say you have problems with character emotions, I know I have problems with plot and structure. It seems as if we have different strengths.