Paperback, 170 pages
Published July 15th 1999 by Writer’s Digest Books (first published 1988)
Original Title Plot (Elements of Fiction Writing)
ISBN 0898799465 (ISBN13: 9780898799460)
Edition Language English
Series Elements of Fiction Writing
“There are ways to create, fix, steer and discover plots–ways which, over a writing life, you’d eventually puzzle out for yourself,” writes Ansen Dibell. “They aren’t laws. They’re an array of choices, things to try, once you’ve put a name to the particular problem you’re facing now.”
That’s what this book is about: identifying those choices (whose viewpoint? stop and explain now, or wait? how can this lead to that?), then learning what narrative problems they are apt to create and how to choose an effective strategy for solving them. The result? Strong, solid stories and novels that move.
Inside you’ll discover how to:
- test a story idea (using four simple questions) to see if it works
- convince your reader that not only is something happening, but that something’s going to happen and it all matters intensely
- handle viewpoint shifts, flashbacks, and other radical jumps in your storyline weave plots with subplots
- get ready for and write your Big Scene
- balance scene and summary narration to produce good pacing
- handle the extremes of melodrama by “faking out” your readers–making them watch your right hand while your left hand is doing something sneaky
- form subtle patterns with mirror characters and echoing incidents
- choose the best type of ending–linear or circular, happy or downbeat, or (with caution!) a trick ending
- Whether your fiction is short or long, subtle or direct, you’ll learn to build strong plots that drive compelling, unforgettable stories your readers will love.
I find that the chapter titles speak for themselves. This book after the introduction has eleven chapters: Chapter One: What is Plot?, Chapter Two: Grand Openings, Chapter Three: Would You Trust A Viewpoint With Shifty Eyes?, Chapter Four: “Shut Up!” He Explained–Handling Exposition, Chapter Five: Early Middles: New Directions and Subplots, Chapter Six: Building The Big Scenes: Set-Pieces, Chapter Seven: Harnessing Melodrama, Chapter Eight: Patterns, Mirrors, and Echoes, Chapter Nine: Pacing, Transitions, Flashes, and Frames, Chapter Ten: When You Come To The End, Stop, Chapter Eleven: Beyond Plot.
Under Chapter One, you’ll read about the border of actuality and the contrast between thought and no thought and what it means when emotions cross the line into plot. You read about what’s at stake and how this makes the reader care about your story. The idea of making a scene is encouraged in this chapter and how opposition, internal and external, drives the motivation of your character. You’ll learn about what is a pure-victim story and why you need to avoid it, and, why an even battle is more fun to watch anyway.
Testing story ideas and determining whether they’re worthy to tell is discussed, along with what to do if the idea is too personal for reader to become involved with. Many times, we authors have started a story, written a few chapters, plowed along without stopping and then suddenly hit a brick wall…BAM! The author suggests that you should make a poster and put it where you write: PLOT IS A VERB! Why? Chapter one tells why.
There must always be something at stake for one or more of the characters involved in my story, and most important a central conflict. You’ll learn more about this here.
The next chapter discusses why it’s so important NOT to start at the beginning and why. In this Chapter, you read about why telling rather than showing must be carefully handled to be successful.
Learn what every effective beginning needs to do and why; how important is mood setting, how the introduction of your character must happen right away and then to engage your reader’s interest shortly thereafter. Setting a scene is so important to the success of your story. Learn why and how through creating believable characters and giving them great props in realistic settings helps the reader to visualize your characters and their world. The author discusses how not to bog down your beginning with descriptions and why opening with a bang is more important. Remember, any story worth telling is worth revising.
Chapter Three discusses omniscient narrative, a story told by the author, not through the viewpoint of a Protagonist. You’ll read a discussion why this isn’t always a good way to go and why, but remember, with every rule–there are always the exceptions. Multiple viewpoints risk losing the reader because they have no one person to identify with. In this chapter, you’ll learn about other viewpoints you can use and in what circumstances they would be the most effective.
Chapter Four touches on writing backstory in the beginning of your story and how writing exposition must happen smoothly and not detract from the ongoing story.
Chapter Five addresses that dreaded early middle, subplot and offers new directions. Here you can broadened the reader’s understanding of a character. You’ll learn how and when and what limitations you’ll face if any. How many chapters do you put forward for this purpose? Here, you’ll find out.
Chapter Six shows how you can build the big scene and how to turn up the heat, step by step. Using contrasts are discussed along with when and where to use them in a crises or three… What is a set-piece? Chapter Six explains this nicely.
Chapter Seven discusses melodrama and how it can kill a story if done incorrectly. Want to lasso this aspect and make it behave? Chapter six gives great pointers on how to do just that. There are four main ways to fake out the reader, be melodramatic and write like a pro. These major techniques give examples used by well-read classic authors that you don’t want to miss.
Chapter Eight focuses on how you can form the implicit rules and realities of your fictional world and make the reader pay attention to them. Creating diversity and unity and making your story especially your own is something addressed in this chapter. Developing patterns your initial scenes and set-pieces have created, and thinking of ways to echo and reinforce them in other scenes later on. Can you set up scenes as contrasts with one another? No? Learn how in Chapter Eight.
Many times, writers mirror characters to gain effect for their story, ie: one poor, and one rich, etc. Learn more creative ways to do this with examples from the classics. Mirroring plot is similar, learn in what ways and how to use it properly.
Chapter Nine deals with pacing and transitions… a poorly paced story can cause the reader to fall asleep and miss something critical. Remember, you must escalate your story as you go along. A section that makes you sleep, is a section worth removing or rewriting. Rhythm is just as important. If done improperly, you end up with awkward character and scene interactions. Learn to interweave plot, sub-plots, build set-pieces and introduce new elements and surprises the right way and without causing your reader to frown with confusion.
Chapter Ten tells how the end of the story is much more like the beginning than the middle, learn why. This chapter talks about circular endings and what happens when they go wrong. Linear endings are introduced and explained why they are more common. There are important things that must be done in this section so that the reader isn’t left hanging. Learn how to successfully end your story.
Chapter Eleven discusses mosaic structures and what happens to those fiction that are not founded on the consequences of cause and effect. See how static is important to avoiding a bored audience. Style and substance wraps this book up in a nice and tidy bow. I especially like this book compared to others in the series because of the abundance of useful information contained within its covers, and I give it: