Novel Writing with James Scott Bell

April 27, 2020

I have been working with a couple different novel writing books by James Scott Bell.  Though that wasn't my intent originally.

I began with Bell's audio course, How to Write Best Selling Fiction. Then because I loved Bell's approach and the LOCK (lead, objective, conflict and knock-out) system employed in the course I decided to read one of his books , as I worked through the course. I chose Plot & Structure (which is as of this writing only $2.99 on Kindle) because, for me, structure is always an issue.

Then part way through the Plot & Structure exercises I realized I needed more help with conflict and suspense, so I started referencing parts of another one of Bell's books, Conflict & Suspense.  I was learning a lot from that book.  But I was still struggling with the psychology of my lead.  So I picked up Write Your Novel From the Middle, to see if it might help me out.

At this point, I wasn't really sure which book I wanted to review.  I liked them all.  There was some overlap but for each to work as a standalone volume I think there has to be.  Each of the books was insightful and Bell was good at breaking his ideas down and making them understandable.  Nothing he suggested was academic or unclear.  Everything was applicable to specific writing problems.  Many of which I have.

There were no long novel quotes either.  Instead there were specific examples illustrating the points Bell was trying to make, including a fair amount of movie illustrations.  One Amazon reviewer said that she wished Bell would stick to books, as opposed to films for his examples, but for me the movie examples worked.

One of the reasons I liked the mix of novel and film examples is because it's easy to spot the various elements of story in a movie. The other was that most of the movies were ones just about everybody has seen.  Almost all were from various genre specific books that had been made into films.

Some of the books, like Rebecca and Gone With the Wind, I'd read.  Others (like The Firm) I had not.  But I had seen the movie.  For readers (and writers) of legal thrillers the reverse would probably be true.  That's why I thought the film examples made sense.  No matter what genre you read (and probably write in) most of the stories Bell references will be ones you know.

While I found the LOCK system useful, I especially liked the writing from the middle approach.  At first I wasn't sure if Bell was right in saying that there is a single 'mirror moment' dead center in every (well-written) book.  But he gave a lot of examples.  And when I tested it myself - by opening up the book I had just finished (Gone Girl) to the middle - I found the passage where Nick (finally) decides he is going to fight for his freedom.  A significant internal turning point.

Because all of Bell's books are helping me, I decided to do this kind of composite review and then share how I'm applying what I've learned to my own novel in future posts. I'm hoping that sharing what does and doesn't work for me will be helpful to others and for myself!

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