Searchlight: Plot

Plot by Ansen DibellThe Elements of Fiction Writing line from Writer’s Digest Books is hit or miss for a lot of writers. Much like any other kind of advice, you have to sift through a lot of points that may not apply to your style or way of writing to find suggestions that resonate with you on a personal level. Writing is subjective; so is advice, and the worst thing you can do is to take a suggestion as gospel and try to shoehorn it into your individual style. It’s just not going to work the way you think it will. Ansen Dibell’s Plot, part of the Elements of Fiction Writing lineup, definitely helped me early on with my writing, clearing up many misconceptions about plot and story structure in general. As with anything else, what’s offered here are merely suggestions, and your mileage may vary.

Ansen Dibell (1942-2006) was the pen name of Nancy Ann Dibble. She wrote science-fiction, and a trio of writing reference guides. In science-fiction circles, she is known for the The King of Kantmorie trilogy, and her writing guides include Plot (1988), Word Processing Secrets for Writers (1989), and How to Write a Million: The Complete Guide to Becoming a Successful Author (1995). She also taught literature and writing at the university level before becoming a freelance editor and writer.

Obviously, writing has changed a lot since she wrote Plot, with fiction becoming more character driven, allowing for organic twists and turns that readers won’t see coming when properly executed. But some things never change, and even though character is king, your story will still have a plot for the most part. Some stories have plots that shine so brightly through the screen of character you can see it from the moon, while other stories bury the plot so deep underneath the veneer of an interesting character sketch that you’ll never find it no matter how deep you dig. The great thing about this particular book about plot is that it’s tied intrinsically to character, even down to Dibell’s definition: “Plot is the things characters do, feel, think, or say, that make a difference to what comes afterward.” She takes these common, timeworn elements, such as scene, exposition, even subplots, and connects it to the characters in the story at a deep molecular level, allowing you to grasp the concepts of plot while still maintaining a character driven narrative. Covering such topics as set-pieces, pacing, openings, sagging middles, ending the story, and much more, this guide is one of the most comprehensive and easy-to-understand books on the subject available.

Whether you’re a pantser or a hardcore outliner, there is something for everyone in this book, though it’s worth repeating that these suggestions are not gospel. Some of the best stories in the world are more character sketches than actual stories, though they are so well-written readers quickly forgive any lack of structure because they’re so enamored with the characters. If you don’t fully understand plot or story structure, this guide may be worth your time to at least point you in the right direction for the kind and style of stories you want to tell. Eventually, you’re going to want to have some kind of backbone for your stories, and this book can definitely enlighten you in that department.



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