As I revise and edit my novel, I’ve been thinking a lot about plot and structure. I want to make sure that the plot is compelling and the novel is structured in a way that will keep readers wanting more. In other words, I want to tell the story in the best possible way.
To help me out, I read Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell, which proved to be a very helpful resource. This book does a great job of laying out the basics. Especially helpful was his explanation of the three-act structure and the two doorways of no return that move the story from act to act.
Other chapters reviewed writing beginnings, middles and ends, and how to make each one serve its purpose in moving the story forward and sending the reader into a new world. Of great help to me were the exercises at the end of each chapter. I did one very long one on analyzing the plot of novels I enjoyed. It was amazing to me how each one conformed to the three-act structure Bell presents as the most successful structure for novels.
Some months ago, I read Story Engineering by Larry Brooks (my post on it here). Brooks goes a bit deeper into the three-act structure, giving a few key points that must be observed. Both of these books offer valuable advice. Plot and Structure, in my opinion, is more for beginners and intermediate writers, while Story Engineering takes writers to a higher level.
Is it really that important to write a novel that conforms to the accepted structure? I would have to say it is. From what the books tell me, traditional publishers won’t accept novels that deviate from this structure, at least from unknown authors. I’ll take their word for it.
And the independent authors who publish without passing through the gauntlet of the traditional publishers? I’ve read quite few indie works. The ones I’ve enjoyed most do follow the three act structure. When I’m reading the ones that don’t, I find myself unsettled, expecting something to happen when it doesn’t, or I’m wondering what the main goal of the hero is. In others I feel adrift, wondering where the story is going.
After reading Plot and Structure, I went back and reviewed my novel. I was very encouraged that I had more or less nailed the three-act structure, and just need to add a few scenes to strike the right balance. I also had most of the milestones from Story Engineering occurring at the right time. This gives me some confidence that I’m telling my story in a way that readers will enjoy.