A Review of The Plot Thickens by Noah Lukeman

The book is so well written–so tight and polished–that it provides a perfect example of its own principles. Lukeman’s prose is so lucid that it manages to render even complex concepts like “transcendency” clear, and provides practical ways of incorporating character-driven plot and transcendency into your work. It would be a rare writer who didn’t find his or her manuscript improving through application of Lukeman’s extensive questions.

 

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball
The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life
by Noah Lukeman
St Martin’s Press
June 2002, Hardcover, 218 pages
ISBN 0-312-28467-5
RRP $19.95

The writing “how-to” book market is flooded with guides. There are books which tell you precisely how to write a novel, how to make lots of money with your writing, how to produce great plots, terrific characters, unblock your muse, promote, produce and edit your books, write poetry, write non-fiction and lots more. As writing is as much of a craft as an art, most of these books can help you improve your writing capabilities and provide you with inspiration and ideas, but well known literary agent Noah Lukeman’sThe Plot Thickens is different. The book is so well written–so tight and polished–that it provides a perfect example of its own principles. Lukeman’s prose is so lucid that it manages to render even complex concepts like “transcendency” clear, and provides practical ways of incorporating character-driven plot and transcendency into your work. It would be a rare writer who didn’t find his or her manuscript improving through application of Lukeman’s extensive questions.

Lukeman takes an original approach to plotting, tying great plot intrinsically to characterisation and other critical elements of writing, including suspense, conflict and context, although primarily within the heart of the character. At the end of each chapter are a series of exercises or ways to apply the principles to your own work, and to extend your plot, and throughout the book are examples from literature and film. The eight ways of bringing your fiction to life include:

  • outer life characterization, which looks at external characteristics such as appearance, age, medical condition, family, education, romances, possessions, etc
  • inner life characterization which urges the writer to probe deeper into things like inherent abilities, spirituality, identity, beliefs, motivation, etc’
  • applied characterisation or how your character takes action
    the journey
  • creating and prolonging suspense
  • maintaining conflict
  • editing for context, and 
  • creating transcendency, which includes such things as timelessness, relationality, self-discovery and lasting impression.

Lukeman talks of “The Audience Arc” or the stage a reader goes through when participating in a story, and claims that “(s)tories are necessary. Like food or water, stories have always been of supreme importance to the human race. They speak to us on a primal level, and they fill a need.” (208) The Plot Thickens spurs on writers by suggesting that by creating stories, they are participating in a spiritual phenomenon and have a responsibility to the reader to create stories which are deeper, better, and more powerful, for the reader’s sake. 

“This is not a safe book. It is impossible to read it and not walk away armed with a host of new ideas. It will push you to your limits, as it forces you to explore every last aspect of your work.” (xvii) Lukeman understands, in a way which only comes from extensive reading and editing, what makes for excellent, not just bestselling, fiction. His literary assistance can clearly make the difference between a good book (he won’t take on anything less) and a work of art. If you aren’t lucky enough to have him for your agent, he offers this book as a kind of “gift.” Treat yourself to his superbly written reference guide and you will find indeed that this is not a safe book. You will need to take more time than ever to produce that novel, which will be significantly improved by Lukeman’s guidance. This book is not about a fast formula for success or how to produce a bestseller in 14 days. It will instead force you to probe much more deeply into your characters as they go on a greater, more complex and suspenseful journey with more conflict. You will be forever cutting and expanding, aiming always towards the elusive goal of transcendency. The Plot Thickens is a resource that fiction writers, both beginning and experienced, will return to repeatedly.

For more information on The Plot Thickens or Lukeman’s work in general, visit, www.lukeman.com/theplotthickens

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