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4.0 out of 5 starsMade me feel so much better about my writing.
Reviewed in the United States on June 22, 2018
This is good because it confirmed for me that I am writing my story much better than I had feared. Much of what he is saying should be common sense about storytelling. He has some good tips and techniques. The only thing is that I feel he is a little harsh, unfair, and occasionally just plain wrong about supposed 'pantsers'. He acts like that you will waste your time if you don't plot out at first. That is simply not true. I start with the scene that comes first, which is sometimes the final scene. There is no way to know up front everything about your character and he sort of suggests that his method will help you do just that. And if you write, you know that is not true. His techniques work best for me AFTER I have written a number of scenes. Then, I can order them and make sure the scenes tie together well. You don't have to take the start at the beginning, figure out everything up front method that he does. But, his techniques and advice for parts that your stories need are very helpful. So a very solid handbook, but don't feel like you have to start "at the beginning" and do the sort of character questioning he touts before you allow the characters to tell you what is going on. I figure out my characters through the scenes they tell me about. I think most of us are not making character choices in quite the way he suggests.
5.0 out of 5 starsWhen all else fails follow the instructions.
Reviewed in the United States on September 22, 2019
When I was a kid, I used to like to build model airplanes. Inevitably, I would take the parts out of the box and try to assemble the plane without reading the instructions. I did this because I believed I could figure it out with no guidance. I could construct it on my own quicker than if I were to waste time reading tedious step-by-step directions. I also enjoyed the initial challenge. However, once the frustration settled in, I would reach in the box, pull out the white, step-by-step instruction sheet and unfold it like it was a map guiding me on a journey. Once I found the missing steps that I had initially skipped, the building process would get back on track and I completed my model.
When I started writing novels, I filled in most of the missing steps of the process through dumb luck and having a basic understanding of what I enjoyed in a story. However, I knew there was an easier way. I have been on the lookout for that large, white instruction sheet that I could unfold on the floor to inform me which steps I have been missing. SUPER STRUCTURE is in fact, that large white instruction sheet. Thank you, James Scott Bell.
5.0 out of 5 starsStory Structure concepts made accessible for all
Reviewed in the United States on February 6, 2015
James Scott Bell is one of the few authors that I collect. While I enjoy his fiction, I especially watch for his how-to books on the writing craft. He's done his homework, put in the years, tested the waters -- you name the metaphor, he's got it under his belt. (Ha!)
When I'm writing and get stuck somewhere, I need something to jog me out of the hole. And it varies: I may get stuck at the beginning, the middle or the end. Or even during the process of brainstorming an idea just to determine if it's got enough story potential to bother with. Now, I'm more of a "pantser" than a "plotter" (if you write fiction, you know what I mean), but even I like to have a general bare-bones structure to guide me. I may scrap it and re-work it as I go, but if I don't have something to shoot for, I end up bogged down in the Dead Marshes with no way out.
Between JSB's "Plot and Structure", "Write Your Novel from the Middle" and this newest, "Super Structure", I've got the tools to get me going again. He packs these books full of examples from real books and movies. Seeing examples helps me a LOT. I also have in my library an array of his other books for specific issues like "Conflict and Suspense", "Dazzling Dialogue", "Revision & Self-Editing", but I reach for these books on structure during the whole process.
Super Structure zooms in on the very essence of what about the *form* of a story makes it engaging for readers. You'll want to earmark the chapter where he strips structure to the bare bones (the five "tent poles" as he calls them) and then describes each piece. On the Kindle version, the table of contents is perfect for jumping right to the spot I need help with.
It delivers what it says on the cover. There is enough detail, addressing both planners and 'seat of the pants' writers. Each element makes sense to me, and his illustrations from popular books and movies are very helpful.
It's sexist. (Action movies are men's movies - oh, really? I don't think so. That's just the most glaring example.) I'd like any revision to correct that. I've deducted an entire star for that failure alone.
But the formula is flexible and works - you can use it to examine any novel or movie for more illustrations of how to deliver your story in ways that readers will want to read. There's no pressure to follow a set style at all, because we don't all want an audience. But if you do, this book may be your key to that end.
4.0 out of 5 starsReveals the 14 signposts of a well-structured novel
Reviewed in the United States on May 13, 2019
“...what is in the author's heart/ mind is meaningless if it is not communicated by the words on the page. The challenge is to make/ allow the reader to experience the meaning and emotion by reading printed words. That is the magic trick.”
I’m a big fan of James Scott Bell. I recently attended one of his phenomenal workshops and am reading several of his books to help cement that knowledge as I plot a novel.
Super Structure defines the fourteen sign posts JSB recommends for a well structured novel. There are many things I love about this book. For example, how the author includes suggestions to make his system work for plotters and pantsers and the extra nuggets of information he includes on writing great fiction.
The examples he gives in this book are similar to those provided in his other craft books, which is good and bad. On one hand it helps drive the points home in a consistent manner, and on the other, they feel recycled. Also, he doesn’t always clearly define each sign post, instead providing examples to do the heavy lifting. I got what I needed from this book, however, and I look forward to applying the information to create a strong structure for my work in progress.
3.0 out of 5 starsVery short, and blatantly padded - but worth it all the same
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on February 10, 2016
Two things you should know before you pay for this "book": it's incredibly short - I read it comfortably within an hour - and the first 40% of it is just a badly-thrown-together pep talk, exhorting you to listen to what you're about to hear. That first section is made up largely of lengthy quotes from Internet blogs, personal emails, and (properly acknowledged) snippets from other people's works. It even veers off onto random thoughts that have nothing to do with story structure - including a list of songs the author likes to listen to while he's writing! - which are blatantly shoe-horned in to help the whole thing reach a halfway respectable word count.
But the irony is, if it had been up-front about the fact it's a short focussed pamphlet, then I'd have been happy with what I got for my money. The fourteen "signposts" the author identifies are thought-provoking; he picks good examples to illustrate his points, and once he's (finally) got down to business, he has an engaging writing style which set me off on a few creative thoughts. If you're up to speed on the classic three-act structure then a lot of it will be familiar, but it elaborates on the model and offers some provocatively different angles. There were a couple of things in there which are so obvious when pointed out, but which nobody had ever highlighted to me before - and it would have been worth it for those nuggets alone.
So go ahead and buy it, I say. But be aware that you're getting an extended article rather than a book, puffed out by a load of unoriginal padding.
An excellent book setting out a version of the 'Monomyth', tuned for writers wishing to structure their work before writing, or for writers who wish to structure/restructure what they have already written.
Depending on how you describe the Monomyth there are a number of stages. Some writers refer to 18, or 17, or 12, or various 8 stage formats. James Scott Bell describes 14 'signposts' spread over the 3 Act format, but reminds writers that the signposts are there for guidance not as a pattern to be enforced at all costs. He makes the case that without the 'super structure' a story just wanders around without capturing a reader's attention.
Each of the 14 'signposts' is described briefly (with short examples in well known books or films). It also includes an explanation of why the signpost 'works' in the particular place in the novel, some helpful hints for 'plotters' and 'pantsers' and a reminder about the impact of the 'signpost' on your characters.
From the final chapter: "Remember, Super Structure is all about making sure the power of story— the guts and blood and heart and emotion of it— connects to the reader in the most effective form. You will never go wrong with the signposts. But that does not mean you cannot try some other strategy if it seems right to you or if you simply want to mess around and see what happens."
5.0 out of 5 starsNever again wonder where your story is going next
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on September 13, 2015
If, like me, you have ever started writing a story only to sigh in frustration when you realise that you don't know what should happen next, then this book is for you.
Super Structure tells you the "beats" that will resonate with readers if they appear in your story. It doesn't tell you how to write - there are a lot of other books that will give you the skills to create characters, render conversations realistically and describe your fictional world. It doesn't dictate what your story is about. What it does is to give you "signposts" to point the direction through your narrative. If you don't know where to go next, look at where you are in the story and follow the appropriate signpost. Your reader, seeing the signposts, will have faith that the journey is going to be worth their while.
One caveat: I'm a natural planner. Although the book advertises itself as being appropriate for both planners and "pantsers", and there is a nice paragraph or two at the end of each chapter explaining how each type of writer can apply the skills to their writing, I can't help feeling that it will be difficult for "pantsers" to work with it. Just a word of caution.
For those of us who do have a natural gravitation towards careful plotting, I would wholeheartedly recommend buying the book. It fills a gap in the "beginning, middle, end" corner of the market by putting a little meat on those bones with the events that define, and the doorways that connect, those parts of the story.
Having devoured the book in two sittings, I'm now at my computer ready to apply Super Structure to the latest idea in my head. It's that good.
I loved this book - it is straight forward and uses great example to illustrate the point James Scott Bell is making. There are many books on writing craft out there but this one is easily at the top of my favourites list. I also loved the other books in the series. Writing is about challenging yourself and learning. We can never stop learning.