student comments

In the fall of 2015 I helped teach a massive open online course for The University of Iowa’s International Writing Program.  My co-teachers were five graduates of the UI Writers’ Workshop.

These were just some of the spontaneous comments from only one of my lectures:

hui liang yeo

Bruce Elgin You never fail to impress. You make it so succinct and easy – BE CLEAR utzAND DON’T BE BORING. My head is so much lighter now, haha. Thanks.


Amber Hart

I agree with hui liang yeo about Bruce Elgin. Last week I was completely lost in the video discussions until I read through Bruce’s posts.


Donna Ewbank

The lecture, especially the expression of mentality was enlightening for me as a writer. Freeing, was your explanation of style. for those of who might write across genres, your two easy steps -1. Be clear and 2. Don’t be boring- are a huge help. Last night I decided I might write a horror novel for NaNoWriMo just to see if I could do it. It is a new genre for me. Your words seems to reach out and say, “You can do this!” Grateful!


Laura Moe

I liked your discussion on structure and the solution for preventing the sag in the middle of the novel. Novels are essentially just one scene after another, but putting them in the right order for structure is a challenge.


Jacquie Dutton Strebe

I agree. That fundamentals video was the best thing I’ve listened to so far. Bruce has an excellent teaching style. It’s one thing to be a published writer, it’s quite another to be an excellent writing teacher.


Vicky Chong

I enjoyed this lecture the most as it really pin pointed the essence of how to get down to write a proper basic novel.


Mary Knapp

Great lecture! Thanks for sharing. Lots of useful information =)


Natalya Soboleva

Bruce Elgin I’m bursting to say (though I’ve commented in this thread earlier) that I like not only both the video and the post, but the way you are always IN this discussion! A great plesure to follow it!


Twila Colley

Mr. Elgin, Wow. My major is Creative Writing and I have taken a lot of classes. This doesn’t mean I know a lot, just that I have studied a lot. I must say, your lecture was the most informative lecture I have ever heard on the subject of writing. It has never been explained in that way, nor has it been made quite so easy to understand. I say understand because of course writing is never easy, fun and rewording, but not necessarily easy. You just gave me the best blue print ever. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.


Dustin Frueh

I’m not sure that I have much insight into the methods of writing, but I just wanted to tell you, Bruce, how informative this was and that I enjoyed it very, very much. Thank you!!

Andrea Khan

Bruce, Thanks for the great video today. You broke it down so simply. I loved how you used the 2 movies as examples. Made it even more clear.


Gali Freedman

Thanks for the clear separating out of plot vs. structure. I know it must seem almost obvious, but it was so good to be reminded of that, with such a great graphic explanation.


James Smith Mentor

Bruce, what a great presentation. Clear-cut examples about structuring and enriching plot points and characters. One of the points you hit several times — even hammered — was that business about trusting the writing and dealing with the formula argument versus creativity. You did that in a way so as not to offend seat-of-the-pants writers, and you gave hope to those of us who always seem to find ourselves defending the idea of planning your writing.


Jaqueline Gutierrez

It was so well explained that I was surprised. I really found this the most usefull thing I have learnt in a looong time. I am more about writing short stories and evocative feelings ( :-p ) but I really liked how you explained structure and everything. Thank you!


Taha Sewedy

Bruce, I would really love to thank so much for such a magnificent video, I did enjoy it so much.


Michael Gooding

I hope I’m not repeating something some has already said. I was only able to scan through the posts.

I’ve been thinking about why

Bruce Elgin‘s video was so much more useful than anything else we’ve heard about plot. I suspect it is because the “plot” videos were presented by people who lean heavily toward literary fiction. In the world of popular fiction, however, you HAVE to get plot and structure right or the reader will stop reading. I believe Bruce comes at it more from that perspective than from the literary perspective.

Thank you Bruce for balancing things out. Hope you keep your job :).


Christina Wellwood

I couldn’t agree more! It was a refreshing and ‘user-friendly’ approach which has really resonated with me. I appreciate the practicality of Bruce’s suggestions and feel like his clearly presented suggestions will hold me in good stead in my future efforts, as a potential author of popular fiction.


Christina Wellwood

Bruce! I am so grateful to have had your perspective and experience to refer to! You delivered your thoughts in such a ‘user-friendly’ manner which made it so easy to understand. Thank you! I also love the concept of the ‘backward pass’. It’s a simple but effective way for many of us to double check all the details and holes, not only in the practical “consistency’ role, but in assessing the growth and development in our characters. Of course, I’m a big fan of your ‘house’ analogy as well! Overall, I feel like you are the approachable, helpful prof that I’d like if I was in a classroom. Nicely done!


J.R. Dawson

This was awesome. I just got my notes back from my editor today about my novel and the plot is a mess and these are all the problems I’m having. Thank you, Bruce.


Donald Prime

I found your discussion of various types of structure incredibly interesting. I’ve of course known about classical structure and had a passing knowledge of the hero’s journey but had never heard of “sequence writing.”


Marcia Olivieri

Great lesson! Thank you Bruce for precious tips!


Karen Aldridge

All of the lessons have been excellent, but this has been my favorite so far. It helps that it’s already in my wheelhouse and I’m already familiar with McKee, but even so, I learned some things I didn’t know or that I’d forgotten. Thank you.


Christine Jones

Wow. You have really given me a lot to think about.


Shawn Radcliffe

That was a great video. Lots of useful information here.


hui liang yeo

I’m awed by this FF video. Thanks so much.


Tanya K

I agree, would also like to hear more. Very hands on!


Beth Buechler

Me, too. This was definitely one of the most helpful videos so far for the rewrite work I’m currently doing on my novel.


Britton Swingler

Bruce, I really appreciate the straightforward way you handled the material. Having examples always helps me own the information. For years now I have read like a writer (two of us reading at once, actually…reader and writer), and now I find myself analyzing what I am watching. Your tips will take me even further. Thank you.


Deb Robertson

Bruce Elgin, Thank you for sharing these amazing writing tools: sequence writing, the backward pass, and the hero’s journey. Invaluable resources! Thank you!


Fiona Young-Brown

Excellent video, Bruce.


David Bokolo

We are here to learn. the more i listen to you the more I am building my capacity to learn. Thank you.


Stell Costello

Loved the history on how sequences came about!


L Odom

Yes, there’s a lot of information in this video, but I didn’t find that there was too much to take in. I thought all of the examples were perfect and easy to follow, and I haven’t seen either of those movies! And I LOVE the idea of the backwards pass. In my first novel, it was very much ‘free writing’ and discovery writing, and luckily, the way it came out was very similar to what was mentioned here (first act – ordinary world, etc, etc, building action to a resolution, you get the picture). But there were many loose ends that I needed to tie together and go back and fix once I got to the end, and I realized later that the smart thing to do would have been to PLAN before hand. Next time I get started on a new novel, I am definitely going to use the backwards pass idea. Great video, Bruce!


L Odom

Like many writer’s above, yes, I feel I also have to applaud Bruce on including the bit about causality. This is HUGE when planning to write a novel, to make sure you don’t just have a bunch of random things happening, but things that are related to each other happening instead. And not only are they related, but they have to happen in a certain order. I need to be much better about the planning phase of writing and I think this video has been the most helpful thus far for my writing weaknesses. Thanks for a great video!


Paula Schumacher

Wow. This was an incredible lesson for me. This is my first real writing class, and this lesson really turned on light bulbs. I’m looking forward to using the tools mentioned and finding out about others.


Gerry le Roux

Great video, Bruce – very useful indeed, thanks. I loved the Toy Story example (partly because it’s such a classic story), and from a practical point of view the ‘backward pass’ idea is brilliant; definitely something I will try to use as soon as possible (perhaps in the next writing assignment!).


Marc Thomson

Great lesson. I like the backwards pass very much. I have often begun a work by writing the scene I know I want to see. That scene usually is near the climax or the climax itself, and then work a backwards pass from there. I think the reason I have so many unfinished drafts, however, is that I never knew how they end! I need to write the backwards pass from the ending! Thanks, Bruce.


Wendi Berry

I really appreciated your examples of how sequences add up to the whole and that each sequence, in fact, has a beginning, middle, and end.


Sharon K. Connell

Bruce, I have taken that phrase you used, “Trust the writing…,” and printed it out in big letters to frame and hang on my office wall. Yes, I know there was more but those three words are enough to remind me that we as writers have to trust our own voices, our own writing styles. We hear so often from critics that we should do this another way, or that’s too ………………. or you don’t have enough …………………….. in the story. With all the tools that we are learning in this class, we will have to remember those three words in the end. “Trust the writing” It will be our writing and with the help of all of you, it will improve the more we practice it.


Tanvi Chawla Buch

This was a very good lecture, Bruce – it covered a lot and I probably have to listen to it a couple of times to fully get it.

It is easy to see what the plot points are when you go through The Toy Story and Indiana Jones. I suppose I need practice – perhaps I should re-watch favorite films and try to see if I can map the Hero’s Journey to the events that occur.


Nicholas Gerbis

Also, thank you for saying what so many texts on classical structure gloss over: namely, that the second act is a vast and terrifying desert, at least to novices like me 🙂


Alyssa Worthington

I took a lot of notes from this weeks video, it was all very interesting and helpful information. It was a lot to soak in but it was really good.


Tanya K

It’s a lot to take in so I also took notes, and re-read the transcript. I think I will be using these notes in the future!


Jessica Nowacki

Thanks, Bruce, for the tips. I have used the Hero’s Journey in student writing assignments and have seen other instructors use it for literary analysis essays, but I never thought of using it as a tool to move my own writing forward.


Paula Tonn

I found this particular break down of a log line very useful and approachable. Also, the definition of Antagonist is something that I will take with me.


Peggy Duffy

Bruce, I echo the helpfulness of your video that fellow writers have expressed. What stayed with me was the character arc, bringing the internal and external together, as in desire being the outer goal and need being the internal block or flaw that needs to change, and to show that change by character actions and decisions made. Also the idea of causality as opposed to random events in the story. That plot is what happens and casualty is the connective tissue that holds the plot together. Lastly, the concept of Trust the Writing in all its stages: planning, writing (creating), revising and editing. Thank you.


Erin Kneeshaw

This video had tons of information—almost overwhelming, but
I need every bit of it–especially the reminder that we should PLAN
the writing. Two good examples of films to make points, too.


Adrienne Andrews

Thank you, Bruce, for all of this information. It was extremely helpful to understand many techniques and tools, and that the “formula” is not necessarily a formula. All of tte info is very important, and although we can’t get an immediate grasp of all of it, I think as we read through it and watch the video again, things will really begin to fall into place.


Maureen Blevins

I think the backwards pass can be very helpful – I will definitely use it.


Y.I. Washington

Learning the backward pass seems to be one of the tools I needed. I have been struggling with completing the first book in my science fiction trilogy because I wasn’t sure how to get to the ending. I kept trying to get there from the beginning. Now with the backward pass, I can deconstruct the end and figure out how to get there in a new way. Thank you Bruce!


Cynthia Ford

Great lecture Bruce!


Bill Henslee

This was the best presentation of the whole program so far. I thought it should have been at the beginning of the selections on Plot, rather than the end since it actually went into the structure of a plot line. Instead we got lectures on the development of a plot through the development of characters.

I was also glad to see the introduction of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey as a template for plots. Campbell’s work posited that virtually all of our classic myths and literature have in common this arc of plot that in itself defines the development of the protagonist character.


Jon Anderson

The best presentation yet. The narrator spoke a bit too quickly but very useful overall. Thanks.


Kadee Jo Carpenter

I agree! This week I feel like I learned more than the other 3 combined.


Kadee Jo Carpenter

Okay maybe not learned more but definitely found more tools to put in the toolbox for later.


Danielle Mckinney

Me too, this presentation was more about writing then the reading assignment.


Autumn Fabricant

I found this lecture to be very helpful. I often write short stories, but would one day like to venture into writing a novel. The idea of each chapter or sequence having a beginning, middle, and end was very helpful to me. I work in education, and we often talk about chunking assignments for students, who are easily overwhelmed. Anyway, in a sense, this structure allows the second act to be broken into smaller pieces in a way that seem manageable. I am excited to try out this technique.


Kamal Preet Kaur

Bruce Elgin, besides everything, what a smooth silky voice! I enjoyed listening to you as much as I enjoy reading and taking part in your discussion topic. I think backwards pass is very interesting because while i don’t know where to begin I have a clearer idea of how i want my story to end. Also, I agree the change in interiority of the main character leaves me more’s all about becoming better human beings at the end of the day! Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge.


Libby W

Bruce, your advice has been invaluable. Next time I get stuck in the middle of a story I will review your screenwriting idea about having cliffhangers at the end of each scene or chapter to keep the reader interested. Thanks so much for sharing your tips.


Alonna Shaw Mentor

Bruce Elgin, I think your discussions resonate with me because we both have screenplay backgrounds. I’m Truby, plus McKee, with some Campbell mixed in. Then a really long list of “additionals.” For many writers I think movies are something they can wrap their minds around in one big piece. They can “see” the whole thing, but a book is too big to “see.” Storyboarding scenes or sequences can be a helpful tool. Index cards can be a way to write scenes/or sequences down in bullet-point form–Then, move them around and see how story dynamics change when read aloud in different orders.

Your video lecture examples of Toy Story and Raiders of the Lost Ark were great! You broke down structure in a very user-friendly way.


Lara Durrant

I really enjoyed watching this lecture! I sat down yesterday evening with a notebook in hand and nodded when new topics were presented. Thank you so much for breaking down what happens in that “middle section”!! So often I’ve read guides to the three arc narrative structure and they leave out that huge chunk and focus on the beginning and end. Well, that just doesn’t jive well with me… and it’s often the middle parts that leave a reader in the dark. Maybe sometimes they’ll slug through the muck, but other times, they’ll put your book down and never pick it up again. Eek! The idea of breaking the story into little mini three part arcs is a great one. I’m definitely going to give it a try.


Christine Bloom

This was a wonderful lecture. I saved the transcript as well as took notes. Thank you, Bruce. I think it is important to have some planning upfront but sometimes I worry about it getting in the way of writing.


Ann-Marie Madden Irwin

Thank you Bruce Elgin again for your teachings. I’ve learned much from you. And now I need to revise my work. . .


Naveen Sridhar

Thank you, Bruce, for the clear exposition and the particular comparison with the movie reels: that is the way also the novels of yon were printed in magazines as serials. I remember my mom and sisters eagerly awaiting the next issue and hanging on to the cliffhanger. In fact, the whole town was in suspense. It is a wise ruse to use this method almost for each chapter in a novel.


Teri Kelsey

WOW. I just had a chance to listen to your video. I knew I’d be taking lots of notes, but I also copied the whole thing to reread later. I’ve always struggled with the middle of my novels, sometimes to the point of giving up, for the exact reason you said. Not a clear enough idea of what should happen. I felt I was making important choices in a vacuum.

Right now I’m planning my first fantasy novel, and it’s coming together much better than I expected because I recently heard a novelist suggest knowing your ending before you begin. I didn’t think I could, but decided I could know the “shape” of my ending, and use it to help me make decisions about the middle. Eventually I did your backwards pass – saying I need this kind of thing to happen, so this person needs to be here… I’m not quite ready to start writing but I’m much more confident that when I do I’ll have a strong story. Without knowing the ending I didn’t have a good way to make the many decisions that come up while I wrote. Should the character go here or here… How could I tell? Now I have a framework to make those decisions wisely. And it points out where I have holes I need to think about.

Besides really helpful ideas to try I find a discussion like this helps me to think more clearly about my writing. I’ve struggled with my MC. I knew what she wanted and how it would cause her problems, but I didn’t have it nailed down specifically enough. Then you said, “The need is something in the character that needs to change. It can be thought of as some kind of inner block that keeps the character from achieving that outer goal.” I had to stop the audio and think about that. I realized it’s not really that my MC wants to keep the farm going until her missing father and brothers return so she can have her family back. That’s what she thinks she wants. What she really wants is to have that family/community around her. People she can care about who care about her. That prompts her first small act of saving a homeless boy which then snowballs into her leaving the farm and helping save the known world. lol The story hasn’t changed but my understanding of it has deepened, and that will let me write it better.

Sorry to run on. There was a lot of good material there. Thanks for sharing.


Clay Adams

Easily the best lecture of the bunch. Thanks, Bruce.


anne dorst

I love your talks, Bruce, so helpful. You are passionate about great writing but not shy of giving us practical tools.


Deborah Fry

Thank you soooo much, Bruce. I have found the combination of your introductions to craft issues and practical tips extremely helpful, and don’t want this to stop!


Cynthia Huijgens

I found this Fiction Fundamentals lecture especially helpful Bruce, especially the backward pass which I am going to use with my novel. I have been struggling with some scenes which can be further developed once I truly understand the causal chains more fully, and I think working in reverse is perhaps the one thing I haven’t tried yet which may prove the most helpful.


Joelle Pfortner

Thank you Bruce for using these simple yet powerful examples (toy Story and Indiana Jones) of how to plot your story


Kristen Hatcher

I had never heard of a backward pass, but I’m really excited to try it, especially on WIPs when I have the beginning and characters figured out, but I’ve become lost in the middle and I have no clear picture of the ending. Writing down the ideas, from Z to A (if I make it that far), will be helpful and take my story where I want or need it go go. Thank you!


Zea Thynne

Bruce Elgin for something so dry as a Powerpoint presentation, you did are really great job. Thanks for that.


Lloyd Jenkinson

Many thanks for a very useful talk. I think the use of film resonated more with me.

Well done


Douglas Gwilym

Strong points, Bruce. 🙂 Thanks.


Susan Mink

Thanks so much for a really, really helpful presentation. I studied Joseph Campbell and his mythical structures as a theology student but hadn’t directly used them as a tool in my own writing – and really, it’s so obvious! Thanks for that!

I am very interested in historical fiction, so there is a pre-constructed plot there. I think my struggle will be to not get distracted by things that happened to my protagonist that don’t affect causality. Either that, or figuring out how those events do affect causality, even in a subtle way. I need to be able to take a person’s life and make all the pieces fit together, when in reality, they very rarely do. I think your backwards pass will help me weed out the unnecessary events to keep the narrative clean. Thanks!


Douglas Gwilym

I appreciate the “backward pass” concept, Bruce. It’s one of those things those of us with a long-standing appreciation for Poe tend to do a bit of, automatically. Build everything around that final, climactic image or scene. But I think it’s sound advice, checking all the moving parts like this in reverse order, systematically, especially in longer works. It’s easy to get caught up in each individual moment and lose sight of the functionality of a scene as regards the whole. Thanks for this!


Libby W

Thanks so much Bruce. I am going to look over my speculative fiction novel attempts again and see where I got stuck. I wrote lots of notes about the structure and what was going to happen in each chapter but somehow all of the structure that I wrote collapsed the idea and energy of the work. With the tools you’ve just passed on I hope to resurrect my creative flow.


Danielle Mckinney

I loved the use of the movies because they were relatable. Something that is in pop culture. Plus I have never saw Buzz as an antagonist but just a catalysm for events to occur.


Kathleen Constantine

Bruce, you are an excellent teacher. For years I have been trying to get a firm grasp on plotting. Your specific ideas: desire and need, the timelock, the backward pass, the antagonist not as enemy but the one who forces change, these made all the difference for me. Thank you!! I actually think I can plot now!

I also like your comment above that planning or not planning isn’t necessarily conflicting approaches, but it is all about timing—when you turn your headlights on. That resonates with me, as someone who makes lists (and lists of lists) but doesn’t necessarily feel the need to follow them. They just help me relax my mind so that I can be, you guessed it, creative. People have different needs about when to turn those lights on I guess.

Really Bruce—I can’t thank you enough for teaching us these concepts.

Nusrat Mandrupkar

Thank you for a very well stated, clear and interesting lecture.

I second every word you said



Alonna Shaw Mentor

Bruce Elgin, What an informative talk! You put together a wealth of storytelling info in a short and easy-to-understand form. I love your explanation of sequences.


Darlene Peterson

I always print the transcripts for future reference, but I have yours highlighted in yellow throughout. Thanks again.


Ogo Nwokedi

Great video, Bruce, so much that’s useful for me to learn. I realized as I listened that I already use some of these tools instinctively, but I want to try being more intentional to see if it makes my writing process more productive and organized – I can imagine that, as you said, you can save a lot of time by planning ahead (with the understanding that a plan is not a straitjacket, and you can change the plan if you need to).


Jan Pryor

I enjoyed this a lot! I somewhat lazily lean toward the let-the-plot-sort-itself school, but this convinces me to try what you have suggested. And as I listened I realised that in a memoir I have completed, I used many of your tools without realising it. Thank you.


Diana Cruz

This was so helpful as a beginning fiction writer. I knew about the Hero’s Journey beforehand and had REALLY brief exposure to archplot, but you brought together so many of these structures/tips in a really accessible way! Thank you so much for your help. I know I’ll be referring to your advice often.


Donald Prime


Thank you so much for your intriguing video talk. I wish it had been longer.


Carol Hull

I like the concept of the backward pass, and that you broke it down even more simply with the start at z, what had to happen at y to get to z, et cetera. I don’t think I’m far enough along in my writing yet – don’t always have it that well in mind, but I’m working on developing story, so this should help. Thank you.


Katie Zdybel

Wow. I just want to say thanks, Bruce. This was so immensely helpful to me. I’m going to have to look over my notes and reflect more before writing much else, but just wanted to say thank you. All of this information is exactly what I’ve been looking for as I revise my young adult novel. Thanks!


Janette Coulter

Thank you

Bruce Elgin. Normally I hear ‘planning’ and tense up (especially at having to plan a traditional arch-plot) because nothing ever goes to plan. You made it a little less terrifying.



Bruce Elgin you are a fabulous teacher …I second everything that has been said about you and this ovideo session.


Heather McCurdy

I thought you did a fantastic job Bruce! There are a lot of key pieces in here, and I’m glad you talked about the hard work that goes along with Trust the Writing. A few videos back, the instructors were like trust the writing, and it was frustrating to me because there is so much work to do to make sure this happens, at least in my opinion. I use the backwards pass a lot. I also use the reverse outline to make sure everything lines up as well .. they may be two names for the same side of the coin though.


Nupur Maskara

This is pure gold! So many specific ideas, so useful. Just plotted out my novel for NanoWriMo. Thanks a ton. Used all the techniques, feel much more confident now.


Anne Feldman

My tool box just got more complete thanks to your wonderful lecture.Very valuable. Especially the backward pass. I have a lot of trouble with plot, and causality, and starting with where you want to be and moving back slowly sounds very intriguing. I am going to try that. I went to an author day in March with Mona Simpson, Lisa See, Joyce Maynard and Violet Bulawyo, and one of them (sorry I can’t remember which!) said that she starts every book writing the first sentence and the last sentence. That still sounds so daunting to me, but I am a planner, so your structure tools are most welcome to me.


Derek Poulton

Very helpful tools. I immediately identified with the minimalist / anti-structure category, but I can see how considering classical structure would benefit my writing. Even if I leave out parts of the classical sequencing, or violate them, it’s a good point of comparison.


Justin Podur

Bruce Elgin this was fantastic. As you promised, you showed me a way to work the rising action/increasing stakes, in this case, through having the “middle” consist of sequences. That is a very useful way to think about it, and as I look back on the novel I’m just finishing the first draft of, I realized I was doing that – I think I was inspired by television, thinking of each chapter as an episode and the novel as a season of TV.

The “backwards pass” was also very useful, and I think I will be using it in my rewrite. Thanks too for the inspiring words at the end, about how it’s possible to be creative in the later stages of editing and rewriting.


Isabelle Laporte

Bruce, you got me at “The son of a zoo director and art therapist”. The imaginative wheels inside my head starting spinning. 🙂

Seriously, this is a marvelous video, neatly summarizing the basics of structure. I especially loved your “Act II doesn’t have to be a 200-page monster.”

When you said that you were going to talk about an old-school tool, I thought your discussion would focus on the scene-sequel sequence (Dwight Swain: “To lay out a story, repeat the pattern to fill the desired length: scene . . . sequel . . . scene . . . sequel . . . scene . . . sequel. . .”) I enjoyed your take on Act II being a group of 4 or more mini-stories.

Thanks! P.S. Your pace was excellent.


Janet Luongo

Bruce, I have found the classical structure and Heroes Journey helpful in writing my memoir (written like fiction). But, as you say, choose elements you like for your own purposes, IF it serves you. The metaphor of the buffet stood out.

I like that you re-iterate that structure is NOT formula, but DESIGN, and compared it to a house (I picture Frank Lloyd Wright architecture) that people like being in and EXPRESS the writer.

It was very helpful to hear your take on loglines. All these so-called tedious tasks are in fact creative and bring insight. Loglines help us get to the hear of our story, and is practice for the promotion we’ll have to do to publish. You gave a simple template: protagonist, antagonist and stake.

Good clarification of anatagonist a friend or enemy who creates conflict, which forces the protagonist to change. And presenting stake as what’s at risk if the protagonist does NOT reach the goal.

You articulated many of the principles I learned in a writing group, but in such a new and clear way. Concise. Like that causality is necessary in art; exterior and interior change grow together; that we show character change through their actions and decisions, and that the outward goal is the desire and the inward flaw or block is the need.


Lori Jacobson

Great video! I especially appreciated the presentation about sequence writing. What a lot of problems this concept will fix! A series of mini stories, each with a cliffhanger ending, designed to create a structure within a structure that provides consistent rising action. Wow. It feels like such a manageable approach. The novel isn’t such a massive, amorphous, anxiety-provoking event. It’s a series of smaller projects.


David Larkin

Thanks Bruce, great lecture. The idea of inner and outer character arcs intrigued me. Have to reach a goal, but having to change to be able to reach that goal. I imaging that readers like that because the like to potential of people changing. It seems like Darwinism. The character has to adapt to survive.


Laurel McCue

I saved the transcript of your lecture Bruce to refer to as often as necessary in the coming days. Thanks for explaining everything in such a clear and consice fashion. Thanks for making this one of the best lectures ever!


Darlene Peterson

Thank you for such a straightforward, easy to understand and apply video. Well, maybe I should qualify the application part; that might take practice. The idea of sequencing through a novel is fabulous. Take away the saggy middle. I am truly anxious to get started.


Ogo Nwokedi

Great video, Bruce, so much that’s useful for me to learn. I realized as I listened that I already use some of these tools instinctively, but I want to try being more intentional to see if it makes my writing process more productive and organized – I can imagine that, as you said, you can save a lot of time by planning ahead (with the understanding that a plan is not a straitjacket, and you can change the plan if you need to).


Jan Pryor

I enjoyed this a lot! I somewhat lazily lean toward the let-the-plot-sort-itself school, but this convinces me to try what you have suggested. And as I listened I realised that in a memoir I have completed, I used many of your tools without realising it. Thank you.


Tony Flemmer

Also, I thought your lecture did a nice job of distinguishing “structure” from “formula.” Most of the stories we consume are formulaic, and I think this explains the initial resistance that new writers have to the idea of structure.


Neil MacDonald

At last! A treatment of plot in its own right. My take-home message from this presentation is this. A story is the events that happen. A plot is the sequence of causality that makes these events happen. But of course we don’t necessarily tell the story in a chronological time sequence. This where point of telling and point of entry come in, as well as the way we weave together the subplots. So there’s a third creative plan at work – structure. Structure is the decisions we make about how to deploy the plot to tell the story in its most compelling form.


Kristin Young

Thank you Bruce! What a fantastic, inspiring and helpful video. I would love to know more about your idea of tying all the tools together to make the most of your writing time. That is something I would find really helpful and useful as I am not that confident or clear in my writing sometimes and it would be great to have tools in mind when I feel like I’m floundering. If you ever made a video on that I’d love to see it/ listen. Again, thank you!


Robert Hutzell

I absolutely agree with Kristin’s statement:

“If you ever made a video on that I’d love to see it/ listen.”

I appreciate Bruce’s organization skills.

I’ve not attended an Iowa City summer workshop, but I’ve thought about it. If I decide to attend one, I’ll hope the instructor is as organized as Bruce seems to be. (In fact, if I decide to attend one, I’ll check to see if Bruce is leading one I can get into.)

Thanx for the very clear, organized presentation.


Mark P

I appreciate you offering a counterpoint to the Doctorow “take a drive in the dark” school of writing. I think I tend to do a little of both. One serious problem I have with simply winging it is that my first, second, sometimes third idea is often bad. When I need, say, a motivation for a character to do something, my early impulses all draw on cultural assumptions, or clichés, or accidental plagiarism from something I’ve read. It takes mulling to come up with something both fresh and plausible.


Stephanie F.

Bruce Elgin I thought this was a great FF, thank you! I will definitely be watching this one again and taking notes on it. It didn’t even feel rushed even though so much ground was covered.

I understand the blueprint concept better now. When i commented on it last week, i didn’t realize that it was a structuring concept rather than a plotting concept. It makes way more sense to me now. The idea of a blueprint and that of driving in the dark are not really in conflict; they’re ways of thinking about two separate things.


Tamara Fox

I truly appreciated this lecture. As a pantster, it went against just about everything I do while writing, but I can definitely see how useful these tools can be once I reach the editing/revision stage. I suspect we do have to know our story to some degree before the tools mentioned become helpful and not just more to worry about.


Tricia Kennedy

This is huge, I’m definitely going to listen to it again. Thank you Bruce. It has cleared up for me the difference between plot and structure. Causality still a little fuzzy on. So many films exemplify the three act structure and hero journey, but, I was watching the Australian film, The Castle, and its structure and plot are so simple and effective, I thought it was worth mentioning for others to take a look at.


Roger Burr

This was an amazing amount of information. I think I could spend hours listening to this multiple times. I think you hit the issue on the head: structure vs. formula. You have been consistent with the overall discussion. We need structure to write, but a formal just doesn’t fit fresh writing.


Niko Godfrey Bommer

This video was great! I especially liked the way you related plot to a house and structure as the blueprints that showed you how to put it together. I’m also now a huge fan of the backward pass. As someone who pantsed their first novel, I’m super excited to try this with my WIP. Can’t thank you enough for this super informative video!


Vic Broquard

Wow! I have been looking for these ideas for a very long time. Thank you for sharing them. Honestly, I wish your talk had been the very first talk. There are so many ideas that I can use right now in my WIP, especially the sequences and causality. You’ve given me incredible tools. Thank you! 🙂


Robert Hutzell

This was extremely helpful to me also. It particularly helps me with the middle section of the story. Sequence writing and causal chains and backwards pass will all be useful to me in thinking about the writing and in getting unstuck.


Kim Martins

This was incredibly useful Bruce!!! Like Vic says above, I too wish it had been one of the first vidoes. Being a HUGE Indiana Jones fan, your use of the film as an example was fantastic and I can now see “structure”. The Backwards Pass is also very illuminating. I can see where some of my stories have suffered from lack of Causality too.


Pete Bridgeman

Great tools put forth here, Bruce. I’ve always been a big fan of the Hero’s Journey method of storytelling, and many of my stories have naturally followed this structure. Your talk brought a real clarity to me about the basic idea of structure, and how important it is to allow for the creativity of the writing to flow more freely within the structure. This really resonated for me.


Renata Mohr

Great video! I’ve heard about the backward pass for the first time in this course, and now it’s part of my “to do list” for when I start revising my novel. Maybe I can catch some randomness in it this way. Thanks!


Natalya Soboleva

I guess it is the best video I’ve seen here so far, so much useful information, worth hours of talk! You know when earlier (in Class 3, if I remeber correctly) the said this don’t plan, it’s like somebody unpleasant ruffled my hair – and that considering that I have only thourougly planned one novel so far. I’m all for planning, and you brough brilliant proof that it’s necessary! and greatest tools – the backwards pass and the Hero’s Journey! I’m already itching to try them out!

I previously used Randy Ingermanson’s method (called something something like the snowflake method), but I am going to let the characters drive and use the hero’s joiurney, Thank you so much for inspiration!


Mandy Wallace

I found the tools in this video especially helpful. Having a strong sense of structure makes the idea of writing a story feel almost easy. Thanks, Bruce!

The examples you used helped crystallize the theoretical concepts. And I’m glad to have both the theory and the examples because I can take the notes I took from this video and test out my ideas before writing them and know immediately if I’m on the right track.

The two most helpful things you shared were how you connected the outer goal as the character’s desire and the inner goal as the character’s inner flaw that prevents the character from reaching that desire. I’ve heard this concept explained in so many strange ways, it was refreshing to get this straightforward explanation. And the other best thing I learned from this video is the concept of mini-sequences through every act in the three act structure. That broke the massive structure into bite size pieces. I left this lecture feeling sooooo much more confident about writing a novel-sized story.

I can tell that you have a strong grounding in structure and have an organized mind because your video lecture was well structured too. I didn’t have to do a lot of rephrasing or reorganizing of your concepts to make them an orderly step-by-step like I have to do with so many other lecturers. Very much appreciated all around!


Patrick McGeown

Thanks Bruce. I am glad you used the word “tools” that a writer can use or not use. Nothing in writing is a must – other than you must write if you want to write a story. In my younger days I feared I didn’t have the skill set to write a fiction novel and would procrastinate at every turn. This course has shown me I have the skill set – I just need to “do it”.


Jessica Daniels

This was a fantastic video lesson. It made me really think about structure and made me feel more confident about the sequence-style structure I’m currently using.