Plot: 18 Great Books on Plotting

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“What if Cinderella had been sent to kill the prince?" ― J.C. Morrows, A Reluctant Assassin

We focused on Structure in the last edition and now turn our attention to Plot. Think of an artist. If Structure is where the artist draws her outline, she plots to add color and detail to bring the painting to life. How much one plots depends on the writer's personal tastes and ability. While some "Character-driven" authors claim to disdain plot, great writers learn and practice the fundamentals.

“Story is honorable and trustworthy; plot is shifty, and best kept under house arrest.” ― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Stephen King might not plot in the traditional sense but he understands the concept. What's more, he's mastered it inside his head. If you compare one of King's great books (how does he write so much?) to great books by meticulous plotters, you'll find they share fundamentals. The beginnings usually introduce the main character in a normal setting, but soon an inciting incident shakes their world or their outlook. They resist but soon commit to some great adventure, challenge or change. They try but fail in their mission. Plotting or no plotting, the first half of Act II leads to the midpoint, and it to the end of Act II. All seems hopeless. The character rallies but is shot down again. Defeated. Unexpected help arrives. The main character rise up to defeat their enemy (within or without). But, the victory usually comes with some great sacrifice. All story lines are answered by the resolution. The ending shows a glimpse into lives of the main characters beyond the story. The end.

While this might seem simplistic, these and other plotting elements are vital parts of any great story. ​If you are selling millions of books, perhaps you don't need to plot. If you're not selling books, or get lost in your writing, you should read as many of the following books as possible. You will not only become a better writer but also reward your readers with better stories.

18 Recommended Books on Plotting

Tick-Tock Plot: How to Speed-Write the Next Blockbuster eBook by Jacqueline Garlick

The Author Alliance staff likes the way Jacqueline Garlick explains plotting and the hero’s journey within a ticking clock.

Anybody who struggles with plotting should read Tick-Tock Plot. It’s short, easy to follow and lays out points that Pantsers and Plotters should strike along the way.

While each author can determine how much they want to plot, it is wise to follow the story landmarks that Ms. Garlick emphasizes in this clever book.

Plot & Structure: Techniques & Exercises for Crafting a Plot that Grips Readers from Start to Finish by James Scott Bell

James Scott Bell is a seasoned author and writer instructor. Bell's taught hundreds of authors in person and thousands of others through his online classes. He's also written dozens of books on writing, including this jewel on Plot and Structure.

This book is somewhat longer and more detailed. We recommend Plot & Structure for anybody who wishes to master plotting.

Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success  by K.M. Weiland

Another of the great writing instructors, K.M. Weiland specializes in plotting. You'll find two related books by Weiland in our recommendations.

Outlining Your Novel walks you through the steps necessary to build a trusted roadmap for your writing your book.

If you follow the advice in this book, you won’t get lost or run into dead ends while writing your story. Anybody serious about plotting likely has or will read this and several of K.M. Weiland’s books.

Outlining Your Novel Workbook: Step by Step Exercises for Planning Your Best Book by K.M. Weiland

In this follow-up to Outlining Your Novel, you’ll be able to put into practice what you learned in the first book.

We recommend this workbook for those who read Outlining Your Novel and need further assistance.

Take Off Your Pants: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing by Libbie Hawker

Need help to unlock your story? Take Off Your Pants teaches plotting technique to produce the most exciting story possible.

Besides a witty title, Libbie Hawker provides a unique plotting method for Pansters and Plotters alike.

9 Day Outlining Fiction: Outlining Your Fiction Novel Plotting Your way to Success by       Steve Windsor

Steve Windsor teaches how to outline your novel in nine days. While some authors might finish early, and others require a few extra days, Windsor’s helps writers develop a roadmap to writing a complete novel.

Nine Day Novel-Outlining is yet another great entry in this category.

Rock Your Plot: A Simple System for Plotting Your Novel by   Cathy Yardley

Not as long or detailed as some of the other recommended books on plotting, Rock Your Plot provides a simpler approach.

Cathy Yardley provides step by step instructions to plot out your book from the initial idea to the final page.

The Plot Skeleton: Writing Lessons from the Front by Dr. Angela Hunt

Perhaps the shortest entry, The Plot Skeleton by Dr. Angela Hunt cuts straight to plotting basics.

If you don’t understand how to plot, this is a great starting book. Dr. Hunt provides a lot of information in the fewest possible pages.

Plot Perfect: Building Unforgettable Stories Scene by Scene by Paula Munier

A longer and more thorough book, Plot Perfect teaches how to develop a scene-by-scene outline to write your best story.

Paula Munier shows how to develop the right theme for your story, how to develop enticing plots and subplots that blend together perfectly.

Plot Perfect is recommended for new authors and more advanced authors who want to fine tune your plotting technique.

The Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker

The Seven Basic Points by Christopher Booker attempts to answer why storytelling remains as important to us today as it was to our ancestors who told stories through paintings on cave walls.

Booker spent thirty years compiling this scholarly 737-page book. As the book title suggests, Booker emphasizes the relationship between archetypal purpose and storytelling.

The Plot Machine: Design Better Stories Faster by Dale Kutzera

Dale Kutzera uses his background in screenwriting and working in television and films to write The Plot Machine.

The book provides authors and screenwriter’s Kutzera’s step-by-step system for writing exciting and appealing stories.

20 Master Plots: And How to Build Them by Ronald B. Tobias

"Plot isn't an accessory that conveniently organizes your material according to some ritualistic magic. You don't just plug in plot like a household appliance and expect it to do its job. Plot is organic. It takes hold of the writer and the work from the beginning." —Ronald Tobias

In 20 Master Plots, Ronald B. Tobias describes twenty plots used by master storytellers throughout time.

20 Master Plots explains specific plot types utilized by the greatest all time storytellers.

The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure any Writer can Master by Martha Alderson

The Plot Whisperer offers another practical study on plotting.

Martha Alderson’s easy-to-follow guide includes diagrams and templates on plots and scene development.

How to Write a Novel using the Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson

Known as the "Snowflake Guy," Randy Ingermanson is another excellent writing teacher. Many authors, including a two members of our staff, consider Randy a go-to source on plotting.

How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method teaches ten steps to help map out your story.

While a how to book, Ingermanson writes it in story form. We recommend this book for its content and writing style.

Writing Vivid Plots by Rayne Hall

The Author Alliance staff loves Rayne Hall and her twenty-plus books on writing.

Writing Vivid Plots teaches how to craft great outlines for full-length novels, serials, and series.

Master Suspense Structure & Plot by Jane K. Cleland

Master Suspense Structure & Plot is a great option for writers who want to add more suspense to their stories. And who doesn’t?

Within a “Plotting Road Map,” Jane Cleland teaches thirteen proven techniques to plot a suspenseful and well-constructed story.

Story Genius: How to use Brain Science to go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel by Lisa Cron

Story Genius is another worthy alternative to traditional plotting.

Lisa Cron uncovers a cognitive storytelling method to outline an exciting story scene-by-scene. Cron devised her system as an alternative to traditional Pantser and Plotter wisdom.

Write Your Novel From the Middle by James Scott Bell

We wrap up our recommendations with Write Your Novel From the Middle by James Scott Bell.

While most authors begin their story by writing the beginning or the end, Bell recommends starting at the midpoint.

Bell believes writing the middle first makes it easier to determine the best beginning and ending.

Which book on plotting should you read first? If you don’t understand plotting very well, you should start by reading one of the shorter books on the list. If you’re a more advanced author, you likely need the most advanced books listed.

If you wish to master plot, we recommend you read all the above books. We’re not saying don’t go to college, but you’ll know plot better by reading all the listed books than you would by taking a far more expensive college class on the subject.

We believe these recommended books are the best available on plotting.

Thanks to authors for your continued support. Thanks to the Author Alliance and Indies Unite staffs for your constant quality assistance. -- Jerry Beller


STORY STRUCTURE: The Foundation of any Good Story

Plot: 18 Great Books on Plotting

Writing Point of View: 7 Books for New & Advanced Authors

Jerry Beller

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