JAMES SCOTT BELL is a winner of the International Thriller Writers Award and the author of many bestselling thrillers, including the Mike Romeo thriller series and stand alones such as Your Son is Alive, Don't Leave Me, and Final Witness. He served as fiction columnist for Writer's Digest magazine and has written several books on the craft of fiction, including the #1 bestseller Plot & Structure.

Super Structure by James Scott Bell

Story loves structure...and so do readers! Structure is what translates story into a form readers are wired to receive it. With Super Structure, you'll learn the factors that make a novel entertaining, commercial, original, and irresistible.

Super Structure will work for any type of writer—those who like to outline, those who just fly by "the seat of the pants," and those who do a little of both. That's because Super Structure stresses the concept of "signpost scenes" which can be used to create an entire plot, the skeleton of an idea, or a map to help you figure out what to write next.


I am a long-time fan of James Scott Bell's books on storytelling, especially of Write Your Novel From the Middle. Prior to reading Bell's book, I believed I was doing everything wrong. Afterward, I came to understand how much I had been doing right all along. Whether you are a Plotter or a Pantser at heart, Super Structure has fundamental and useful advice to offer, a solid foundation for every fiction writer. It is my honor and privilege to be able to include Mr. Bell's book as a part of Write for the Win. – Melissa Snark



  • "Super Structure zooms in on the very essence of how the form of a story makes it engaging for readers."

    – Teddi Deppner
  • "You don't even have to be a super-organized, pre-planner type of writer to use this system. But if you are a 'pantser' (as in, you work by the seat of your pants), you still need a direction to head toward at various points in your story. That is precisely what Bell is so good at providing for you, with examples from classic and popular literature and films, and plenty of wit and wisdom."

    – Stella Cadente



Let me set aside some of the bad raps tossed at good old structure.

First of all, structure is not "formulaic" in the way critics use that term. They mean structure "follows the numbers" but has no real heart.

That's a false definition.

Consider: what makes something a formula:

It works.

It's been tested and proven to be reliable.

If you go to a doctor and need a shot, you want him to give you what has been used over and over with success.

You don't want a doctor who says, "So, I was playing around this morning with some baking soda, water, pepper and chicken entrails, and I'd like to see if that'll work for you. What do you say?"

"Um, excuse me?"

"Sure! I was being creative! Just going for it! I wasn't tied down to old-fashioned ideas and formulas. They tried to put that in my head in med school. Well, I'm a rebel. And I'm much happier now! Roll up your sleeve, please."

Right. You want the formula.

Dear Mr. Bell: I attended your Plot and Structure seminar in Sherman Oaks a few years ago. I was writing my first romance novel at that time. 3 more books down the road, I was nominated for the 2014 Golden Heart and signed a 2 book deal with Montlake Romance. These successes are largely due to following your plot and structure formula. You were right - formulas really do work. Thanks! - Shelly Chester Alexander

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Another false argument is that structure always leads to cardboard characters and clichéd plots.


In fact, when you use it right, structure creates plots that please and surprise, and are filled with unforgettable characters.

"But structure stifles play!" shout the skeptics.

No way. You start with your imagination and heart. You get fired up about telling a story because you have a plot idea (a "what if?") or a character idea, or both, and you're jazzed about seeing what happens.

Here is where you play. This is where you stoke the spark of an idea into a wildfire of original material.

At some point, however, you must bring form to this pile of raw brilliance or it will remain just that, a pile.

* * *

Still another canard about structure is that it takes the joy out of writing.

More hooey. In fact, when you know what structure is and does, it will excite you just as much as dancing through the playground of your wild side. You will know exactly what you're doing. There is nothing quite like the confidence of a craftsman who is practicing his trade with knowledge, experience, and love of what he does.

Finally, let me clear up this idea that utilizing structure is just a linear, mathematical process. This argument states that teachers of structure are trying to sell you on the idea that you can begin at square one and just follow along, step-by-step, all the way to the end, and have yourself a fully realized novel or screenplay.

More bunk.

Structure is flexible. You can utilize it at any time in the writing process. If you are an outlining type, you can indeed lay out the skeleton of a solid plot from the get go.

If, on the other hand, you are a "seat of the pants" writer (or "pantser" for short), you can come to structure later in the process. Or you can use it when you get stuck in the thicket of the middle and need to find a way out.

One can even write an entire draft without any thought of structure, then upon reflection treat that draft as notes and deep material for a finished novel, which will happen when you finally put that material into a form readers can respond to.

The Concept of Signposts

I like to think of Super Structure as signpost scenes or beats. This is derived from the metaphor for writing a novel from E. L. Doctorow. He said it's like driving in the dark with the headlights on. You can see only as far along the highway as the lights allow, but once you drive further you see a little more.

To this I add that if you know what the next signpost is, you won't get lost or drive off a cliff.

So as you write, if you begin to wonder where to go next, Super Structure gives you the signpost up ahead. You drive toward that scene and you're right back on track.