Plot and Structure – James Scott Bell

James Scott Bell in his book Write Great Fiction – Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting and Plot That Grips Readers from Start to Finish, says an excellent way to learn about plotting and how a story comes together is to read a book for pleasure, think about it and make notes about your impressions, then go through the book scene by scene and write on index cards. (This is in Chapter 14 “Tips and Tools for Plot and Structure” under the heading “How to Improve Your Plotting Exponentially”)

This is the process he suggests:

  1. Read the book for pleasure
  2. Think about it for a day. Make notes. He suggests asking: “Did you like it? Did it move you? Were the characters memorable? Did the plot hang together? Were there any times you felt the book dragged?” (James Scott Bell, Writer’s Digest Books, 2004)
  3. Go through the book scene by scene.
  4. Use one card per scene which you number at the top right corner
  5. For each scene write: “the setting; point-of-view character; a two-line scene summary; and scene type (action, reaction, setup, deepening, etc). Does the need of the scene make you want to read on? Why or why not?”

He says to do this for at least half a dozen books in your genre. You’ll then have a stack of cards for six novels.

James Scott Bell suggests using the scene cards in the following way:

  1. Read through the stack of cards for one of the novels quickly, remembering each scene then going to the next card. This brings you back up to speed on the plot of the book.
  2. Go through all six stacks. This will sharpen your sense of plot.
  3. Lay out a set of scene cards in order on the floor. Divide into the three-act structure (you can read more about the three-act structure in chapter three of Bell’s book). He says: “try to identify the various beats required in the beginning, middle and end. Identify the scene or scenes that compose each doorway or no return.”

This, he says, will do wonders for your plotting and writing.

My Plan of Scene-by-scene

I will be analysing the books I’ve listed on the Fangirling page, scene by scene, in the manner James Scott Bell outlines. I don’t want to bog down the Fangirling pages with the info, so I will add it as a link to the very bottom of each rave. This will not happen immediately, but I did want to put up the analysing information in case you are as excited as I am with the implications of such deep analysis and want to jump into the process yourself.