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Elements of Fiction Writing - Scene & Structure (The elements of fiction writing) [Paperback]

Jack Bickham
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

15 Mar 1999 The elements of fiction writing

Craft your fiction with scene-by-scene flow, logic and readability.

An imprisoned man receives an unexpected caller, after which "everything changed. . ."

And the reader is hooked. But whether or not readers will stay on for the entire wild ride will depend on how well the writer structures the story, scene by scene.

This book is your game plan for success. Using dozens of examples from his own work - including Dropshot, Tiebreaker and other popular novels - Jack M. Bickham will guide you in building a sturdy framework for your novel, whatever its form or length. You'll learn how to:
  • "worry" your readers into following your story to the end
  • prolong your main character's struggle while moving the story ahead
  • juggle cause and effect to serve your story action
As you work on crafting compelling scenes that move the reader, moment by moment, toward the story's resolution, you'll see why. . .
  • believable fiction must make more sense than real life
  • every scene should end in disaster
  • some scenes should be condensed, and others built big
Whatever your story, this book can help you arrive at a happy ending in the company of satisfied readers.



Product details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Writer's Digest Books; New edition edition (15 Mar 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0898799066
  • ISBN-13: 978-0898799064
  • Product Dimensions: 22.7 x 15.2 x 1.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 636,385 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
MENTION WORDS SUCH AS STRUCTURE, form, or plot to some fiction writers, and they blanch. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great insight into writing practices 26 May 2013
By Sisalka
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
An absolute must have for any aspiring writer and a great tool for experienced ones who just want to be reminded. The advise is clear, practical and there are so many times when I felt light bulbs going on! It reads well as well. Will certainly come back to it again and again!
How to write structured fiction is explained with copious examples that are analysed line by line. The sequence of scene and sequel is - again - explained in detail and in a way that makes it easy to follow and understand. So from the smallest of components to plotting the whole novel, all the building blocks are very well laid out. If something is wrong with one of your scenes, go back to basics - i.e. this book - and you can fix it.
Conclusion: One of the best in this how-to-series, make sure you buy it!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading. 8 Mar 2014
By Doyler
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I am so glad I purchased this book. It lays everything down you wish to know about scene structure, breaking it down into easy
to understand compartments. It is one of the best aids to any new, intermediate writer, in fact I would say it is essential.
It gives you easy to follow examples, breaking down scene and sequel and then the various permutations.
Get it, read it and apply, that is my recommendation.
Excellent book!
Thank you Mr Bickham.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Very good book about writing novels 29 July 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The best book about writing novels. Nothing more to add. Very systematic, clear. Easy to understand and follow. If you want to write a good novel - just follow the rules.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  106 reviews
56 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Looks like it'll be dull--it's anything BUT! 6 May 2000
By Teri Tasker - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Where was this book when I was writing my first three novels? Halfway through this book, I threw out everything after chapter two of my current book (and I had 13 chapters already written!) and started rewriting feverishly. Powerful stuff. If you haven't read this book, you probably don't know enough about how to write captivating scenes and what to do with the characters AFTER the scene is over. I only put this book down long enough to apply what I was learning. It's worth every penny. A heartfelt wish Jack Bickham had written much, much more about the art of writing...
53 of 54 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nuts and bolts for your creative engine 30 Jun 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
With due respect to other reviewers (below), I think they overlook the central strengths of Bickham's "Scene & Structure" and home in on peripheral weaknesses.
An absolute prerequisite to success in any craft is acquiring its vocabulary. If you go in for graphic design, you'd better know how to use concepts such as contrast, repetition, proximity and alignment. And if you go in for fiction-writing, you'd better be able to use concepts such as scene, sequel, conflict, stimulus-response, and so on.
You might have a layman's understanding of what a scene is, but from the writer's standpoint, exactly what is a scene? What is its purpose? What work does it do in the overall structure of a story? What are its elements? What sorts of variation are possible? How do you control the pace of a scene? How do you effectively connect one scene with another?
These are the kinds of questions Bickham answers in useful detail and with comprehensible illustrations. If the excerpts from his own writing in the appendices aren't masterpieces, as some reviewers complain, they do serve to illustrate specific principles and techniques discussed in the text, and these are what make the book worth studying. To mention just one example, before encountering this book I had never grasped -- never even heard of -- the distinction between a scene and a sequel. Yet it's an essential distinction that a fiction-writer must know how to use. Bickham tells you, shows you, how to use it -- and many, many others.
Bear Bryant was no Joe Namath. Bob Fosse was no Fred Astaire. The best coaches and teachers are rarely top-notch practitioners of their arts. Jack Bickham is no Charles Dickens, granted. But he is an insightful teacher whose book can be of value to any writer who approaches it as a source of instruction rather than a model of artistic excellence. And as for "rules" about ending every scene with a disaster or explicitly stating the goal of every acene, if these strike you as wrong, vary them. If you aren't creative enough to think of exceptions to an "all or nothing" rule, are you really creative enough to write fiction?
37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rating the Elements of Fiction Writing 21 April 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I've read all the books in the Elements of Fiction Writing series and this is how I'd rank them.
"Scene & Structure" "Characters & Viewpoint" "Beginnings, Middles & Ends"
The above three books are invaluable -- must reads. They are the best of the series, in my opinion, and are packed with good information on every page. Well-done.
"Conflict, Action & Suspense" "Description" "Plot" "Manuscript Submission" "Setting"
The above five books are good, solid reads. Again, they contain good information and cover the subject decently.
"Voice & Style" "Dialogue"
To me, the last two books need to be rewritten. They are by far the weakest of the series. Both suffer from an annoying style, particularly Dialogue, and both are very skimpy on real information. Neither one is very helpful.
This is the order in which I'd recommend reading them.
30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars HELP FOR BEGINNER AND ADVANCED ALIKE 19 Mar 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Most books on fiction writing aren't worth the paper they're printed on. This one is different. Jack Bickham is a master when it comes to structure, and if you let it, this book can make you a master as well. Not everything about writing can be learned; fortunately structure is something that can. This book is as well-structured as are Bickham's novels. Frankly, I don't know any writer, beginner or advanced, who couldn't profit from this book. It's certainly helped me.
169 of 204 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Formulaic and patronising 3 Mar 2002
By HLT - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is the third "Elements of Fiction Writing" book that I've read. The previous two ("Characters and Viewpoint" , and "Beginnings, Middles, and Ends") are truly excellent, and I have no hesitation in recommending them as both readable and usable.
Unfortunately, this work falls far short of the standards set by the previous two books.
Here's an example of Bickham's writing, excerpted from one of his novels and presented in this book as an example to be emulated:
"A sound like air gun pellets loudly peppered the front wall of his cabin."
In my world, air gun pellets might pepper a wall, but a sound cannot. Perhaps that's just his style? If pulling the reader up short and making him say "huh?" is style, then fine - but personally, I'd expect his examples to be cleaner than this.

As for the assertion that every scene must end with a disaster (OK, he means setback perhaps, but disaster is the term he uses), once again: huh? I've carefully checked several popular novels on my shelves - the sort of work I'd be proud to write - and it just ain't so. That's not to say I've never read novels that follow that formula to a large degree, but they've been just that: formulaic. Perhaps there's money to be made down that road, perhaps it's a way to get published, but it's not for me.
He actually goes further than that. Every scene must begin with a clear statement of goal ("most of the time, the character states his immediate goal in obvious, unmistakable fashion"), to be followed by development of conflict, and finalised by failure to reach the goal. Then there must be sequel - again precisely structured (Emotion, Thought, Decision, Action).
I also found the writing style problematic. The two books I mentioned above were fascinating and engaging, and I finished each in a day or two, but this one is a slog.
As you can probably tell, I'm irritated with this book. If it was a case of Bickham offering guidelines, it would be one thing... but he's implying that this has to be the rule, and that exceptions must be carefully justified. ("Once every hundred scenes, maybe you can get away with allowing the goal to be implicit"). Perhaps that's appropriate for particular genres, but few of the (mainstream) writers whom I admire follow these recipes.
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