June 1, 2009

Novel Writing 101 -- Plot

I love to read books about writers and writing. I always wonder, "How do they do it?" "What's their schedule like?" "How do they juggle competing demands?"

So when NPR's Three Books was titled: Get That Book Deal, Three Books Tell You How, I was excited. Sarah Pekkanen suggested these titles: On Writing by Stephen King, Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maas and Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell.

Since I've already read and loved On Writing, I got the other two books.

The main thing I took away from Writing the Breakout Novel is that it requires hard work, perseverance and digging deep, deeper, deepest with character development and layered plotting during revisions.

Plot & Structure may not have the sexiest title, but James Scott Bell writes in the most accessible way. I feel like I'm sitting down with a good friend every time I open the book. A good friend who knows A LOT about writing.

I want to share one exercise in the book that I think will help clarify your novel's plot.

(From page 21 of Plot & Structure)

Fill in the blanks for your novel.
  • My lead (main character) is a _______________.
  • Her objective is to ________________________.
  • She is confronted by ______________________ who oppose(s) her because __________________.
  • The ending will be a knockout when _____________________.

According to the author, if you fill in the blanks, you'll have the skeleton for a solid novel.

What book about writing most inspires you?


Paul R. May said...

Great info, Donna!

I love Stephen King's On Writing (you'll have to see my copy... the highlights, the underlined highlights, the highlighted underlines...)

Another big winner for me is Jerry Cleaver's Immediate Fiction... fantastic approach to plot (It all boils down to conflict, action, resolution...) and a wonderful chapter called "Hitting the Wall" with useful tips for climbing out of that nasty cave we always talk about :-)

Wild About Words said...

Great suggestion, Paul. Thanks!

Jody Jensen Shaffer said...

Great post, Donna. I loved King's On Writing and Maas' Writing the Breakout Novel. Another of my favorites is Bird by Bird. And I can't forget my little Strunk and White, either. I love concise.

Just reserved Bell's Plot and Structure from the library. Thanks for the recommendation!

Wild About Words said...


Love Bird by Bird. It sits on my shelf near my slim volume of Strunk & White.

Anonymous said...


Jacqui said...

I like Walter Mosley's This Year You Write Your Novel.

But I love Bird by Bird best of all.

Jean Reidy said...

Thanks Donna. I've added Plot and Structure to my "to read" list.

Wild About Words said...

Thanks, Jean, and Jacqui, I think Oprah excerpted part of Walter Mosley's book in her magazine. It was very good. Bird by Bird's great. I love anything written by her!

sarah pekkanen said...

Thanks for mentioning my NPR piece, Donna! I totally agree with everyone about Bird by Bird -- if I could've named four books, it would've been the fourth! I'm glad you found JSB's book helpful.

Wild About Words said...

Thanks, Sarah!
I loved your NPR piece. And I'm really enjoying your recommendations.
All best,

Alice said...

I love "On writing" by Stephen King. I have several that I consistently read again:
the Fire in Fiction, by Donald Maas,and Make a Scene by Jordan E. Rosenfeld. I also like Crafting Stories for Children by Nancy Lamb since I am writing an MG.

I have several others that I refer to from time to time also.