Plot and structure – a review and why it’s important

I wrote a book. Apparently it is quite good – now anyway. But I went about it without really knowing what to do, without any real understanding of what makes a book work. Imagine understanding how a car works in principle, but not knowing how the parts worked together. Well the same was true of writing. I could understand what I wanted to write, but not how to write it.

As a result, I fell into the trap that many first-time authors make – I just started writing. The result was 150,000 words that kind of contained the story I wanted to tell. I then applied my journalistic knowledge and began editing. It was something I was familiar with, having been the editor of a couple of magazines. I thought ‘sure, I can do this, I edit 20,000 words a week’. How wrong I was. Three drafts and a lot of heavy rewriting and editing later I began to have something printable, but it was hard work. The lesson, learn how to structure a book before you start to write – even if you think you have it all in your head; you haven’t.

I discussed this with fellow That Book Site editor Mark Willoughby, who by day is an engineer (and that does him no justice). He described his approach to writing like designing systems; these systems being a series of boxes each with a separate function. This made sense. This was chapters.

When it came to writing my second book (still a work in progress at time of writing this), I wanted to sense check and formally understand what the structure of a novel should look like. I found Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell. Bell is an author in his own right, having published more than a dozen novels, as well as books on writing.

His book was a revelation. Firstly, it affirmed that my first novel, Deep & Meaningless, did actually hit what he described as a good structure, but also highlighted what I has suspected – that there is a much easier way of getting the structure right, by planning, plotting and writing exercises.

I won’t spoil it, but here are a few things Plot & Structure covers:

  • Three act structures
  • Making compelling main characters
  • Making compelling enemies of the MC
  • Writing exercises to test the credibility of your ideas
  • Ways of getting over writer’s block
  • Making compelling endings and adding twists.

There is a link above to his books on Amazon, but I cannot emphasise enough how much reading this has changed my approach to my next book. I’m now sinking my teeth into his Revision & Self-Editing. I’ll let you know how I get on. He also has a range of other books that I hope to review here over the coming months.

About Niall Hunt

Niall Hunt was born in the shadow of the Cotswolds and brought up in the Vale of Evesham. He is an award-winning journalist and now lives and works in London. Deep & Meaningless is his first novel. His second work, Time Bomb, is under way.

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