Plot & Structure Exercise 1: Get Motivated

The first book in the semester of Plot will be James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure. With a name like that, how could you go wrong? Not his, although it does reminds me of one of my favorite professors in college, Susan Bell . . . nevertheless, just for bibliography’s sake, I found this book on Jane Friedman’s website, a treasure trove for writers, here. You’ll notice, by the way, the author guru’s site looks curiously similar to mine (I borrowed it . . .). No guilt though, I bought her book two years ago, and have been a fan of her ever since. So consider it honoring.


Anyway, having secured a copy of what promises to be a great training on puh-lot . . . I blaze through chapter one . . . a little silly, a little light, almost too casual of a read . . . but he is so real when comparing lit fiction to commercial fiction . . . and cites some amazing authors’ ideas on craft, not to mention gives some quick and dirty tips on craft (pause while writing, even if you are inventing as you go, in order to imagine multiple/alternative next scenes; because our mind tends to go with unoriginal next scenes while improvising) . . . for that I tip my hat to the man. Shake his hand. Then complete his exercise one below.


Set aside ten minutes of undisturbed time to write a freeform on the following: “When readers read my novels, I want them to feel ___ at the end. That’s because, to me, novels are ___.” Write from the gut, quickly. When you’re done, analyze your mini-essay. (I’ll consider this analyzing as my editing, since it’s going public, hah.) Does it tell you what kind of plotter you might be? Are you suspicious of plot? Are you more concerned with “gossamer wings” of literary style? (That’s like dragonfly wings; and ouch, yes . . . that is I.) If so, then consider how your writing might double in strength if you learned some plotting craft. (Yes, sir, that is why I’m here.)




When readers read my novels, I want them to feel ecstasy at the end. That’s because, to me, novels are journey’s into the mind of another individual, a time-capsule, and an attempt at a deep, intimate, human connection — all in one. I love novels, and I love the idea of novels. You can do anything with novels. Hence the name, novel: it must be new.


The novel is just the freedom of human expression in words. You can churn out a detective story in a novel, or spend ten years spinning yarns of portmanteaus in a novel. You can tell the story of a man who desperately wants to marry the woman he loves in a novel, or you could fanfic a sequel where the woman turns out to be a vampire who only agreed to marriage so she could suck his life force and live another 200 years in a novel.


And yet, despite the freedom, I’ve reach a point in my life where I need a little structure. I feel like I’ve been building houses starting with their exterior first, language. Language is what I love. Language is what I do. But what if I want to invite guests into my house? I am tired of ceiling dust falling into their tea cups. It sucks when the door falls flat on their face. I’ve been after the wrong things, it seems, like falling in love with someone for their body alone, as opposed to “what they want” / “where they do about it” / “why do I care” which are the questions of plot, as well as the soul.


When I put a book down, especially one that I love, I don’t remember the words that well. I remember the scenes. I remember the order of events. The drama. Blast you, plot!! Plot is the plot of land my next house will go on. Plot is the space designated for the characters I love. Plot will be the first consideration — at least for now, while plot has its magic spell on me, a grip on my throat, a hand at my hand. I really want to get this ingredient right, yo. I really want to improve.


In the future, let it all burn. Let the thoughts scatter like butterfly wings torn off their owners . . . where there had to have to have been an original creature to begin with . . . yikes, or better yet, let the creature live. Let other’s admire it.


As a PS, in the final minute of this, let me just say, that bit about the bug was gross, but totally spontaneous. As in, my greatest resistance in my life against plot up until now has been the fear that I would lose those random sparks of creativity in following a formula. But . . . I take a deep breath and journey forward, in to your mind, the reader. Even the wildest jazz musician benefits from practicing his scales — all his scales — hell, that’s why we call them “his” scales, after he masters them, owns them, uses or doesn’t use them at will.


So, yes, that’s my wish.

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