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"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 "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 Scenes 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.


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"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 "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 Scenes 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.

30 review for Plot

  1. 5 out of 5

    Candace

    Plot is a matter of choices instead of an outline of writing skills. It provides four questions for testing a story idea. Plot discusses the difference between scene and exposition, and the need for both. It highlights techniques such as mirroring and echoes, braiding plot and subplots, melodrama, pacing, transition, frames, and flashbacks and flashforwards. Plot discusses how to recognize the end of a story. Finally, it goes beyond the cause and effect plot to the mosaic, collage and revelation Plot is a matter of choices instead of an outline of writing skills. It provides four questions for testing a story idea. Plot discusses the difference between scene and exposition, and the need for both. It highlights techniques such as mirroring and echoes, braiding plot and subplots, melodrama, pacing, transition, frames, and flashbacks and flashforwards. Plot discusses how to recognize the end of a story. Finally, it goes beyond the cause and effect plot to the mosaic, collage and revelation strategies. This book is a good introductory to plot and a good reference book.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    The chapters on beginnings and endings were superb and very helpful. So many writers guides are catered to genre fiction and churning out the next bestseller - I appreciated Dibell's treatment of short story collections and literary works. She used extensive examples from books and movies that I have seen and liked (Lord of the Flies, Jane Eyre, and Star Wars), so that probably helped too - many of the other guides I have read cite examples of plotlines and character arcs that I am just not The chapters on beginnings and endings were superb and very helpful. So many writers guides are catered to genre fiction and churning out the next bestseller - I appreciated Dibell's treatment of short story collections and literary works. She used extensive examples from books and movies that I have seen and liked (Lord of the Flies, Jane Eyre, and Star Wars), so that probably helped too - many of the other guides I have read cite examples of plotlines and character arcs that I am just not familiar with, and the references are lost on me. A few of the middle chapters were too tedious for me, but they may be applicable later in the process, but it ended with a strong ending and how to craft the conclusion of your book that leaves readers satisfied... I've just read too many books that were so great until the last 50 pages...

  3. 5 out of 5

    Amanda Tero

    If you think this is a book about outlining your novel, you're wrong (I was happy for that; I'm not huge on outlining). It is a book that explores what plot is and how you need to think about it. I thought it did a good job explaining what is needed for short story vs. novel. I could have done without chapter seven (on melodrama, curses, vampires, dark things I'll never use), and for some reason after that, my interest in the book kind of waned. It could be because I just had a few long days, but If you think this is a book about outlining your novel, you're wrong (I was happy for that; I'm not huge on outlining). It is a book that explores what plot is and how you need to think about it. I thought it did a good job explaining what is needed for short story vs. novel. I could have done without chapter seven (on melodrama, curses, vampires, dark things I'll never use), and for some reason after that, my interest in the book kind of waned. It could be because I just had a few long days, but I didn't find the last half of the book quite as helpful as the first half. As always there were examples taken from tons of random novels and movies. There were a few curse words and some impure insinuations..

  4. 4 out of 5

    John Patterson

    When I was a freshman in high school my English teacher went over a rather dull lecture of the technical aspects of a plot. Exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution. Thankfully, the author does not once go over this structure. Instead she recognizes that a plot can take several forms and goes over the disparate elements. Some elements that must be used and understood, like exposition and viewpoint. Others that are optional, like subplots and flashbacks. Each concept is When I was a freshman in high school my English teacher went over a rather dull lecture of the technical aspects of a plot. Exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution. Thankfully, the author does not once go over this structure. Instead she recognizes that a plot can take several forms and goes over the disparate elements. Some elements that must be used and understood, like exposition and viewpoint. Others that are optional, like subplots and flashbacks. Each concept is exemplified by the authors own works and recognizable works from novels and movies. Recommended if you are interested in writing or want to be more analytical in what you read.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Matt Evans

    The author, for some unknown reason, uses a pseudonym. She claims to have written the “internationally published” five-book science fiction series The Rule of One. But that fiction series doesn’t exist, at least not on a public or international scale, so kudos to Dibell for thus keeping the forensic loop closed on her pseudonym. But wait -- let’s check the internet. Turns out Dibell is in fact Nancy Ann Dibble, American Sci-fi-wri-(ter). She’s dead now, but must have been something of a Star The author, for some unknown reason, uses a pseudonym. She claims to have written the “internationally published” five-book science fiction series The Rule of One. But that fiction series doesn’t exist, at least not on a public or international scale, so kudos to Dibell for thus keeping the forensic loop closed on her pseudonym. But wait -- let’s check the internet. Turns out Dibell is in fact Nancy Ann Dibble, American Sci-fi-wri-(ter). She’s dead now, but must have been something of a Star Wars nut back in the day: Plot is shot through w/ The Empire Strikes Back references. So there you go. But the point, here, is that the title of Dibell’s supposed sci-fi series The Rule of One is actually a clever tipping of the hat to Star Wars fans, a discreet index finger placed on the side of the nose, as it were, a pointed glance, if you will, to those in the “know.” The phrase, “Rule of One,” apparently refers the Sith (q.v., Dark Lords of the) principle of absolute obedience to an autonomous overlord. And it is exactly this notion of dark, deep, secret connection -- of plot -- that Plot so effectively limns. Dibell is good company; she’s not a bore. Her book’s parting words are good-humored and direct: “Now, quit reading. Go write.”

  6. 5 out of 5

    Eric Shaffer

    I love books on writing. Each one is like going to school with a new instructor, and no matter what they know or don't know, it's always fun to review basics and see them from another point of view. One thing I particularly liked about this book is that Dibell was at least aware--even in a book focused primarily on plot--that plot is not only an artificially and chronologically arranged series of staged events, as, we all must admit, most plots are, but that plots can also dispense with one or I love books on writing. Each one is like going to school with a new instructor, and no matter what they know or don't know, it's always fun to review basics and see them from another point of view. One thing I particularly liked about this book is that Dibell was at least aware--even in a book focused primarily on plot--that plot is not only an artificially and chronologically arranged series of staged events, as, we all must admit, most plots are, but that plots can also dispense with one or more those features without losing the integrity of the story and maybe not even losing the interest of the reader, which, as a devotee of Vonnegut, Robbins, Calvino, Brautigan, and O'Brien, I most certainly am. I like a teacher who can recognize and allow for all possibilities of fiction and not just the ones that make money. Clearly, I am also one of the writers who dares to veer occasionally from all of the canonically required characteristics of fiction--see my novel Burn & Learn, or Memoirs of the Cenozoic Era for proof--and I am glad to see that at least one book represents a larger spectrum of the possibilities for writing fiction. Enjoy.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Misha Crews

    I was given this book as a graduation present when I finished high school, and it was one of the best gifts I've ever received. Dibell's points are all concise, intelligently written, and most of all, true! I've referred back to this book countless times and I doubt I'll ever get tired of it.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Larry

    My wife and I are downsizing our library in anticipation of moving from the house where we raised our family to a much smaller place, where the two of us can be cozy together. In the process, she gave me a dozen or so books about writing that she's accumulated over the decades, to determine if there are any I would like to keep. PLOT, by Ansen Dibell is a keeper. Dibell defines plot as "the things characters do, feel, think, or say, that make a difference to what comes afterward." This is not the My wife and I are downsizing our library in anticipation of moving from the house where we raised our family to a much smaller place, where the two of us can be cozy together. In the process, she gave me a dozen or so books about writing that she's accumulated over the decades, to determine if there are any I would like to keep. PLOT, by Ansen Dibell is a keeper. Dibell defines plot as "the things characters do, feel, think, or say, that make a difference to what comes afterward." This is not the usual definition, "the sequence of events in a story," but it provides a rubric for which events should be included in the story and a guideline for how to present them to the reader. In this concise book, Dibell addresses most of the topics that (I have been told) writers should be concerned with: beginnings, scenes, point of view, middles, sub-plots, set-pieces, and endings. She also addresses things like style and narrative structure that I have not seen in introductory texts for new writers. One fascinating topic was the use of repeated patterns and motifs in the work. Connections between elements of the work can be established by similarity or contrasts in scenes, characters, patterns in the plot. People are hard-wired to notice patterns, and this sort of repetition adds to the depth of the reader's experience. I especially noted Dibell's exposition of the "Rule of Three" where she writes, "One is an incident, two is a pattern, three breaks it." The primary thrust of this book is to lay out the possibilities for constructing a plot, and provide advice about what choices tend to work, or work well together, and which choices weaken the work. There are any number of examples that I could quote, but this advice about style spoke strongly to me, "Use the simplest possible structure that conveys what you want to convey, presents what you want to present. And, as with other matters of technique like viewpoint shifts or changes of locale, clue the reader in on the method, the structural rules of your story, right away in as direct and clear a manner as you can manage." I found this book helpful.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Valery

    In some ways this book is a little out-dated, but in other ways it is still credible. Every little detail, every little thought, could be construed as boring if you don't have your thinking cap on. I think my absolute favorite, and most relatable part was that of The Empire Strikes Back references. Of all the examples, that one helped me the most. Glad I took the time to study this book and now I need to imlement what I have learned!

  10. 5 out of 5

    TC

    Very concise and easy-to-read, with practical examples from well-known stories (including The Empire Strikes Back!) discussing the mechanics of structuring plot. The list of techniques is extensive, and along with the means for using them, are plenty of warnings of how they can go very wrong. The techniques she lists are useful in any kind of fiction writing, from genre fiction, to literary novels, to short stories (and given the Star Wars examples, I suppose even screenwriting). However, the Very concise and easy-to-read, with practical examples from well-known stories (including The Empire Strikes Back!) discussing the mechanics of structuring plot. The list of techniques is extensive, and along with the means for using them, are plenty of warnings of how they can go very wrong. The techniques she lists are useful in any kind of fiction writing, from genre fiction, to literary novels, to short stories (and given the Star Wars examples, I suppose even screenwriting). However, the author promises no silver bullets. This is not some magic writing method that guarantees success; rather, an examination of what has been shown to work, and what doesn't. Her advise is not at all rigid; in fact, she eschews story and character outlines, instead believing that the act of writing will flesh out where a story is going, with editing and rewrites (but not endless editing and rewrites) being the ways to clean up and keep the story focused. (It is clear though she also thinks you'll have in mind the kind of story you are writing, and the basic techniques you'll want to use--so it's not at all a "write and see what happens" method.) Despite the book's brevity, there is a lot of information here, and I imagine I will refer to it again and again as I look for help when stuck with a plot that goes nowhere or has gone off the rails.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lisa (Harmonybites)

    An editor once told me that if you're going to take advice on writing, take it either from name-bestselling writers or gatekeepers such as acquiring editors or agents--not necessarily anyone who writes for Writer's Digest or has taught a writing class. Dibell doesn't quality as a "name" writer, but I do like the Elements of Fiction Writing series Writer's Digest puts out--and plotting is one of my weaknesses. This is more about fixing plots then generating them. Dibell obviously agrees with An editor once told me that if you're going to take advice on writing, take it either from name-bestselling writers or gatekeepers such as acquiring editors or agents--not necessarily anyone who writes for Writer's Digest or has taught a writing class. Dibell doesn't quality as a "name" writer, but I do like the Elements of Fiction Writing series Writer's Digest puts out--and plotting is one of my weaknesses. This is more about fixing plots then generating them. Dibell obviously agrees with Stephen King that plots are "found things" and that can be messy as your muse takes you in directions you didn't plan. Dibell writes: You can make outlines and try to lock out that change. But you know, and I know, that writing is as much a process of discovery as it is one of invention, and the more serious you are about your writing and the more complex the story you're trying to tell, the more likely it is to start creating itself in unexpected ways. I'd say that's not only true in my experience, but I that often the parts that are most alive, the most fun, are what comes to shape spontaneously--but at times it does mean you can write yourself into a corner, and I appreciate Dibell's suggestions about how to control the process a bit and avoid some blind alleys.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kelsey Bryant

    This book started out a little basic (warning against blah beginnings, too much exposition, etc.) but soon delved into all sorts of more advanced techniques that I'd never had explained to me before, like mirrors, set-pieces, plot braiding, and adding satisfying twists...and much more! These techniques are what help stories go beyond basic and into something readers will really love and reread. Not enough how-to books go into writing the problematic middle of fictional works, but this book This book started out a little basic (warning against blah beginnings, too much exposition, etc.) but soon delved into all sorts of more advanced techniques that I'd never had explained to me before, like mirrors, set-pieces, plot braiding, and adding satisfying twists...and much more! These techniques are what help stories go beyond basic and into something readers will really love and reread. Not enough how-to books go into writing the problematic middle of fictional works, but this book certainly did. It's a fine, advanced explanation of how to create interesting plots!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jorge

    "Plot" offers fiction writers advice on how to structure their stories, whether they're short pieces or novels. Ansen Dibell (a pen name for the late Nancy Ann Dibble) approaches the subject with a conversational tone. Not once does it feel like you're reading a textbook. "Plot" doesn't present you with a ton of rigid rules to churn out identically structured cookie-cutter works. Rather, it presents a slew of choices and possibilities, all meant to lend form and unity to all those great ideas "Plot" offers fiction writers advice on how to structure their stories, whether they're short pieces or novels. Ansen Dibell (a pen name for the late Nancy Ann Dibble) approaches the subject with a conversational tone. Not once does it feel like you're reading a textbook. "Plot" doesn't present you with a ton of rigid rules to churn out identically structured cookie-cutter works. Rather, it presents a slew of choices and possibilities, all meant to lend form and unity to all those great ideas you have.

  14. 4 out of 5

    H.G. Chambers

    Gold nuggets Began this book with expectations to learn a few tips about structure. Ended up learning several new techniques that were immediately applicable to my current project. Insightful and well worth a read for anyone writing novels.

  15. 4 out of 5

    James Aura

    A useful and interesting book. Lots of colorful examples with excerpts from memorable novels.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Stacie

    I found it very useful though it wasn't what I was expecting. It isn't what to write on what page (Save the Cat techinique) nor cycles of characters (Hero's Journery). It wasn't a formula for writing plot (Bell's Plot and Structure). The book offered a slightly different view on what plot is and how to approach it. It gives a broader scope to plot and pointed out things of which to be wary. It was enlightinging and hearty, but it didn't sink into dullness as writing craft books sometimes do. I did I found it very useful though it wasn't what I was expecting. It isn't what to write on what page (Save the Cat techinique) nor cycles of characters (Hero's Journery). It wasn't a formula for writing plot (Bell's Plot and Structure). The book offered a slightly different view on what plot is and how to approach it. It gives a broader scope to plot and pointed out things of which to be wary. It was enlightinging and hearty, but it didn't sink into dullness as writing craft books sometimes do. I did need to read it in small chunks because I wanted to return to my reading lists and to let it sink in. It isn't a quick read, but worth the time invested.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    This is easily one of my favorite books I've read on craft. Approachable, clear-eyed, but by no means simplistic, this book should be helpful for writers of literary fiction and genre alike. I loved, in particular, its discussions on form and pattern, as it's a kind of analysis that I think that doesn't come up often enough in many writing workshops, even though I think they're fundamental parts of what makes great literature great. I look forward to returning to this book.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Laura Gilfillan

    The two major difficulties with plot are creating it and controlling it. The author presents a good discussion of the elements of plot sprinkled with examples, such as openings, viewpoint, exposition, subplots, building the big scenes, melodrama, patterns, pacing, and ends. This was an enjoyable and instructional read.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Mickey

    My Gram gave me this when I was 12, 13. As a teenager, I used it often. I discovered it on a recent visit home. I'm still very fond of this book and I have already implemented some of Dibell's advice for a story I'm currently writing.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Anchit

    I felt that it was too theoretical. I would read an entire page or two and then realize that I can't summarize the idea in a single sentence. Things like "you gotta take into account X but also make sure that you aren't too X; a little Y always helps" and other similar advice.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Olivio Sarikas

    The book is kind of good, but i felt like it could use some more and clearer examples. It wastes a bit of time on niches that are probably not that important to beginners, while cutting short some other basic things you really would like to understand better to get started.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Maya

    Lots of great information in this book.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Echo

    I found this book to be really helpful, actually. (Maybe it's, in part, because I can't use outlines to write to save my life, and this author also isn't a fan of outlines?)

  24. 4 out of 5

    Valli

    This was helpful to read while I was revising my novel manuscript.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Richard Skolek

    Clear, deep, easy-to-follow. It has everything that you might want in a book such as this.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Bradley

    I have read better books on how to create good fiction, but none were as exacting about plot maintenance, and of course, this is a good thing for a book on plots. That being said, I think I should have been writing, rather than reading a book on plots. Sure, I felt the conflict and the build-up while reading it, but the lack of my action, or no-action, was a glaring defect that I desperately wanted to rectify. So, as a book on plots, I desperately wanted to make one by putting the book down. It's I have read better books on how to create good fiction, but none were as exacting about plot maintenance, and of course, this is a good thing for a book on plots. That being said, I think I should have been writing, rather than reading a book on plots. Sure, I felt the conflict and the build-up while reading it, but the lack of my action, or no-action, was a glaring defect that I desperately wanted to rectify. So, as a book on plots, I desperately wanted to make one by putting the book down. It's not a bad instructional book; it's just one that I, like most people, are overjoyed to ignore. You know: like grammar.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Another great book on technique, especially helpful if you have a ghost of a plot. As you plow through this writiers' suggestions, you'll start snagging your plot idea on all sorts of new ideas and twists. I don't think this book is intended to actually help you develop a plot, only structure one, but even so, it helps jog lots of ideas. And strucutre deserves a lot of thought, if your a planning sort of writer. Also, Orson Scott Card's books in this same series, "Character and Viewpoint" and Another great book on technique, especially helpful if you have a ghost of a plot. As you plow through this writiers' suggestions, you'll start snagging your plot idea on all sorts of new ideas and twists. I don't think this book is intended to actually help you develop a plot, only structure one, but even so, it helps jog lots of ideas. And strucutre deserves a lot of thought, if your a planning sort of writer. Also, Orson Scott Card's books in this same series, "Character and Viewpoint" and "How to Write Science Ficction" are a bit more fun to read and full of loads of useful advice.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Tamara

    I love this book. I bought it in junior high or high school, back when I was being serious about my writing. I just picked it up again, and it's as excellent as I remember. It really makes you think through what you're trying to accomplish with every facet of your writing--why each scene is there, what it accomplishes, what it tells about your character, why it's from the point of view you chose, etc. An excellent resource.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Tammie Painter

    One word to describe this book: Boring. I typically read books on writing and feel inspired to incorporate the advice into my own work (this is a driving force in when I feel stuck). This book was one of the least inspiring books I've read. The information isn't bad, per se, but is very rote and nothing you haven't heard before (unless this is your first book on writing you've read). I Wouldn't say to not read it, but grab a copy from your library rather than shelling out your money for it.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Lynley

    I just read this for the second time. I can see looking back on the intervening years how much I got out of it. (Write the damn scene!) Pair with John Truby's Anatomy of Story and you'll find there are some essential truths about good storytelling, said here in different words, though aimed at novelists rather than scriptwriters.

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