Signposts on the Way through a Novel: A Review of Super Structure

Amber in tree finalHappy Thanksgiving. I’m grateful for many things, and most recently for finding the right book at the right time. I just finished the first draft of the fifth Mae Martin mystery, and this book on writing is helping me with revisions. My review:

Super Structure is a sequel, following up on the principles in James Scott Bell’s 2004 Plot and Structure. The new book quickly reviews the basic ideas of the earlier one but doesn’t replace it. I strongly recommend reading Plot and Structure first, to fully explore Bell’s LOCK system (Lead, Objective, Confrontation, and Knockout) and then build on it with Super Structure.

He has a chatty, casual style and gives his methods and signposts catchy names so a writer is likely to think of them easily without having the book open at her side. The way he words things seems light, but the value of his ideas isn’t. The Mirror Moment is great example. He analyzed successful books and movies and found that almost exactly at the midpoint of the stories, there’s a moment when the lead literally or figuratively confronts himself in the mirror and either thinks about his life, his integrity, his mortality, his choices and his dangers. It’s often short, but it’s deep. This moment is what Jack Bickham in Scene and Structure calls a “sequel.” Inner work that processes what’s gone before and leads to what’s coming next. The protagonist is facing that a threat, and the mirror moment defines not only the turning point of the story but the nature of the conflict in Act III—an inner battle or a physical one.

This book is so short it’s more like a booklet—117 pages in paperback. It’s cheaper as an e-book, but I like my reference books on paper so I can keep them beside me and flip to the section I need for a reminder why I’m stuck and guidance on how to get unstuck.

In both Plot and Structure and Super Structure—especially the latter—Bell wastes a few pages (20 out of 117) selling the reader on the need for structure, which struck me as preaching to the converted, since I had already bought a book about structure. Even so, I don’t regret investing in this slender volume. I’ve read Plot and Structure twice and was heading into a third reading when fellow writers recommended this new book. It was exactly what the plot doctor ordered: a synopsis of the earlier book to refresh my mind and some additional solid steps I can take to strengthen the tension and pace of my work in progress.

Bell is a bit biased against pantsers and admits it, but he still gives them some good pointers. As a half-plotter half-pantser, I like his brainstorming methods. The “mind map” reminds of one of my favorite big-picture plot tools, the mandala method in Jill Jepson’s Writing as a Spiritual Path. Bell encourages improvisation and free flow in playing with ideas for initial disturbances and possible outcomes of the events partway through a book. As he says when he’s trying to sell to the imaginary anti-structure person, structure doesn’t stop creativity. It gives it form.

Review – Lost Cause by JL Simpson

paty shadow (1)I’ve slowly started integrating my fellow Ladies of Mystery authors into my “to be read” pile.  To let everyone know I won’t give a 5 star review unless I loved the book and if a book doesn’t work for me, I’ll not review unless I liked it enough for a 4 or 5.  And again this is my opinion.

I am a picky reader. The characters have to grab me right away and I have to become engaged in the story in the first chapter or I stop reading. I don’t have excess time to read. I have to love a book enough to make time to read. While eating lunch, while cooking dinner, while my husband is watching some TV show I could care less about. I spend most of my day helping on our 280 acres and writing.

Lost Cause 400Lost Cause by J.L. Simpson

Daisy Dunlop thinks “heir hunting” is a perfect career. Too bad she has to work with her husband’s best mate, Irish PI Solomon Liffey. They’ve barely spoken since he took her husband Paul’s request to keep her safe far too literally and handcuffed her to the kitchen sink.

Solomon has no interest in babysitting a new partner, especially this one. The woman’s a bleedin’ liability. She has no concept of danger and could flirt for England at the next Olympics. As if that isn’t bad enough, she has a habit of sticking her nose where it’s not wanted, including into Solomon’s very private life.

Determined to keep Daisy safely out of his way, Solomon sets her the task of finding a missing lord. Her investigations land her in the middle of his case. Bullets fly, bombs explode, and the body count rises. When Solomon goes missing, the tables are turned. Now it’s his life that is in Daisy’s hands, and she has two missing men to find before it’s too late.

MY REVIEW – 5 Stars

I loved this book. I made time to read it. Every time I stopped reading I had a huge smile on my face. This book is cheeky, funny, and a well written intrigue.

Daisy Dunlop is a wonderful character. She lights up the page and has a vivid vocabulary. Her love hate relationship with Solomon is witty and well-played.  The two make a raucous duo uncovering the mystery and uncovering the secrets in Solomon’s life. What I also liked is while Daisy is working with this woman-killer PI she never once forgets how lucky she is to have a loving husband. The scenes between Daisy and her husband are hot and loving.

The secondary characters were rounded, moved the story along, and well depicted.

If you are looking for a humorous whodunit, this is the book for you!

BONUS!  This book is free right now! Amazon

Writing into the Sunset