Monday, August 11, 2008

Scene & Structure by Jack M. Bickham

Reviewed by Sally Painter (

The book I found most valuable in understanding the concept of story building came to me years after I’d been writing. Jack M. Bickham’s Scene & Structure helped bring many aspects into focus. I quickly discovered why Jack M. Bickham had a reputation as a writing guru. Mr. Bickham was a prolific author with more than 80 books published. Some were instructional, but most were works of fiction—westerns, mysteries and thrillers. Some of his books were adapted into films such as The Apple Dumpling Gang and Baker’s Hawk. This wordsmith didn’t stop there. He also taught writing at the University of Oklahoma.

In fact, while reading this book, I often felt I’d slipped back in time into Mr. Bickham’s classroom. The book’s conversational approach is how I envisioned him conducting a class. He reveals how to build a book scene by scene in a usable and understandable format. I feel anyone who has never written a book could use it as a step by step blueprint. Of course, it would depend upon individual talent to bring the words to life, but if technique and understanding the concept of story form was all that was missing from the person’s abilities, then this book could easily fill in that gap.

The reader is walked through the organization of each chapter in a book, for a total of twenty chapters. So it is very detailed and while most of us wouldn’t follow it as a cookie cutter format, I did find most of the examples applicable to structuring a romance genre book. Some vital points included deciding where your story starts and understanding cause and effect. He teaches you to recognize how one action will affect not just the other characters but influence the story’s direction.

Mr. Bickham maps out what needs to happen in each chapter in order to move the story forward. Writing a sequel (bridge) between scenes is masterfully explained. He explains how to recognize areas where adding elements like conflict will serve to heighten the suspense level. He even breaks down the components of each chapter, including the number of scenes needed and kind of action required. He walks you through the process of escalating the story to the dark moment when the mettle of the hero/heroine is tested. And then he cautions against the dreaded sagging middle by offering remedies to correct it and other common problems. He uses imagery to convey a technique. An example for creating subplots is symbolized as setting plates spinning in the air for each character and knowing when these should be removed (subplot concluded) within the story. He shares other techniques to neatly tie-up all loose ends and carry the story to a final conclusion.

Even for a seasoned author, there are morsels to be found. Just recognizing I used certain techniques subconsciously was insightful. Scene & Structure can serve a beginner and a veteran writer and is why it earned a place on my keeper shelf as a valuable reference tool.


Kim Knox said...

I've been looking at this book over the last week or so. I think I've finally got to grips with the scene-sequel structure he advocates. *grin*

Sally Painter said...

Hey Kim,

It is a lot of info to absorb! Like I said, some of the things in the book, I will never use, but it is a great resource.