Monday, August 18, 2008

Plot by Ansen Dibell

Reviewed by Desiree Holt (

When I first sat down to play the piano…Oh, wait, wrong subject! When I first sat down to write a book, the first thing I realized was how little I actually knew about it. It was sure a lot different than just telling a story. Everyone had a book they recommended but I found Plot by Ansen Dibell to be my bible and my guide book. From the first bare outlines of a plot to the final chapter, he provides an excellent blueprint to follow.

Having trouble with your plot? Afraid it’s too dull and uninteresting? He’s got the answer in a short list of easy steps. One of the things that’s always stayed with me is his contention that writing is as much a process of discovery as it is of invention. Creating the plot is only step one. Controlling the plot is step two, and he leads you through the discovery process to identify what plot points are, which ones to keep and which ones go into the sock drawer for the next time around.

More than that, he actually tells you what a plot is: significant events in a given story. He tells you how to identify and create those events, how to weave them together. And how not to give away too much too soon. He tackles the dreaded “shifting POV” and how to keep on track with it in very clear, concise steps. He calls it “The Viewpoint With Shifty Eyes.”

He has a great chapter on building scenes—which ones to keep, which ones to throw away and how to tell the difference. Again, his directions are clear and understandable, easy to follow.

But for me the most important section of the book was how to fix or avoid the terrible, terrible ‘sagging middle’. You know, that place in your story where you’ve got everyone together but don’t know what to do with them? He explains how to develop a new perspective on your characters, how to bring back the key plot points in new scenes and how to set up subplots. Subplots, he tells you, can carry a story right through the weak bridge and shore it up. And he tells you how to do it! Hurray for Ansen!

Want to know how to turn up the tension? Build the mystery? Keep the reader glued to the pages? There’s a whole chapter on this very thing. I keep his catch phrase, “Slowly it turns, step by step,” pasted to my computer so I don’t forget it. Need help with pacing? Transitions? How to tie up loose ends? That’s all covered here, too.

I think the thing I like most about this book is it’s written for beginning writers in very clear, easy to follow language, but it’s just as valuable to the experienced writer. The mechanics of writing never change, and it doesn’t hurt to have a handbook to refer to when you need it.

I recommend this book to everyone who wants to write a story readers will remember.


storm grant said...

This book has been sitting on my TBR pile for years. I shall promptly move it to the top spot.

My particular problem isn't sagging middle (well, *my* problem may be, but not my novel's), but rather where to start and backstory dump. (which I really think should be re-christained "frontstory" since that's where I tend to put it... all. ;-)

Thank you for the recommendation,
~ stormy

Jena said...

Just had to point out that "Anson Dibell" is really Nan Dibble, a wonderfully talented writer and editor who is no longer with us. Writers Digest Books decided her real name didn't sound (exciting? interesting? lofty?) enough sounding, and gave her the pseudonym.

I met Nan through "Beauty and the Beast" fandom, where she not only wrote some incredible fiction, but edited and published a number of anthologies.

Kathy Kulig said...

Nice review Desiree. I dug "Plot" out of my stack of writing books and started reading it again. It's amazing the tips you can pick up on second time around. Warm regards, Kathy