Bell: Write Your Novel From the Middle

James Scott Bell has been my favorite writer-on-writing for some time now, and I have his full-length books from Writers Digest (Plot & Structure, Conflict & Suspense, and Revision & Self-Editing) on my shelf. I recommend them all (and should re-read them myself). Bell has also Write Your Novel From the Middleself-published several shorter works, including collections of online articles and blog posts.

The latest of these is Write Your Novel From the Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers, and Everyone in Between (available for Kindle and Nook). Bell begins with a quick look at Plotters, Pantsers, and Tweeners, at the “Death Stakes” for characters (which may be physical, professional or psychological), and at the three-act structure we’ve all tried to wrap our brains around (Bell adds two helpful “pillars” to the structure, which he also calls “doorways of no return”).

Bell doesn’t really recommend starting your novel at the mid-point (although I suppose you could if you are a far better plotter/outliner than I am). But he has come to the conclusion, based on a wide assortment of well-constructed books and movies, that each contains what he calls the “look in the mirror” moment, the point at which the protagonist takes stock of herself, and considers who she is becoming and/or what she must do. Call it the pivot point in the character arc. This moment at or near the middle of the story can pull the entire novel together and tell you what it’s really about. And once you have it, you can write/plot/outline in either direction. The Mirror Moment is the halfway point between pre-story psychology and transformation.

There’s more to it, of course: details, explanations, and lots of examples. And Bell has added some extra essays, including his views on Showing versus Telling, and an analysis of what makes a page turner, based on a 1953 paperback original suspense novel.

Writing Your Novel from the Middle is short, but it’s packed with information and ideas. It is available for Kindle or Nook, and Amazon also offers a paperback version.  James Scott Bell blogs regularly at The Kill Zone.

Recent Reading

I sat down this evening to write this post and found myself wandering off into an entirely different article.  That one’s not finished yet, but I’m back here for my occasional report of what I’ve been reading.  This morning I made the mistake of opening the Kindle App on my computer, and found myself staring at the vast array of books that I have downloaded, most of which I have not yet had time to read.  I’m not sure of the experience is discouraging, embarrassing, or just overwhelming.  (It doesn’t stop me from downloading more books, of course.  A few days ago I went on a minor binge and downloaded Blind Fury by Gwen Hernandez, Withholding Evidence by Rachel Grant, and Writing Your Novel From the Middle by James Scott Bell.)

For the last few months I’ve only been working three or occasionally four days a week, and friends have asked if I’ve been catching up on my reading.  Alas, so far the answer appears to be No.  I haven’t been writing as much as I’d like, either.  I have, however, been getting a lot more sleep.

But I’ve managed a few books so far this year, and I’m reading three more as I write this (possibly having three books going at once isn’t the best habit, but I seem to be stuck with it.

Grave DangerGrave Danger is an excellent romantic suspense novel by Rachel Grant.  I particularly enjoy Rachel’s books because, like me, she has a background in contract archeology.  (We even went to the same school, Florida State University, although I was there mumble mumble decades earlier.)  In Grave Danger, archeologist  Libby Maitland has landed a great contract in a small town in the Pacific Northwest.  She can deal with the usual problems of the business, keeping the crew at work and the clients happy, but she’s got serious trouble this time: a burial where there shouldn’t be a burial, and a stalker no one else, especially not Police Chief Mark Colby, believes in.  Libby’s been stalked before, but is this the same man, or has she become entangled in something far bigger than a simple excavation project?  Grave Danger kept me turning the pages (or rather pressing the button on my Kindle) in search of the answers.

Bride of the Rat God, by Barbara Hambly, was as enjoyable this time around on my Kindle as it was when I first read it in Bride of the Rat Godpaperback twenty years ago (something I didn’t remember when I snagged it from the Kindle Daily Deal offerings recently).  It does eventually live up to its rather lurid title, with a cursed necklace, a Chinese wizard, and a powerful demon, but it is also a fascinating picture of Hollywood in the 1920s, when movies were silent, parties were noisy, and Chinatown was a mystery.  Not to mention the three gallant Pekingese dogs who help fight the demon.  Bride of the Rat God is full of eccentric but believable movie folk, silent movie production, and thoroughly spooky suspense.  There’s even a romance.

I even got around to updating the software on my Kindle this morning.  Good thing those files don’t weigh anything.  The  App on my computer says I have 214 items on my Kindle.  That’s kind of scary.

Recent Reading

I managed to finish reading a couple of books last weekend, not that I’m in any danger of catching up with the To Be Read shelves, and I can’t even remember what’s on my Kindle.  But I do my best.  This afternoon at work I had a job to do that involved recoding information on an online bookkeeping site (the client and her business are located several states away).  The software is slow to begin with.  My work computer is several years old and still runs Windows XP and IE8.  After each transaction, the screen refreshed so slowly that to keep from banging my head on the desk I pulled out my Kindle and found I could read a page or so while the screen was blank.  I’m not kidding.  I spent an hour and a half making those corrections as fast as the computer could handle them–and reading while I waited for each one to process.  Heck of a way to read, but better than staring at that blank screen in frustration.

I recently finished reading James Scott Bell’s Conflict & Suspense on my Kindle–excellent book.  I really enjoy Bell’s writing on writing–one of these days I’ll have to try one of his novels.  Here’s the review I wrote for the Houston Bay Area RWA newsletter.  (I also posted a review of Bell’s Plot & Structure here.)

A couple of weeks ago I read Darynda Jones’ First Grave on the Right, a book that won a Golden Heart® in 2009.  Three years later it’s on the shelves with two sequels, and another due out this fall.  I’ve only read the first one (but there are two more on my TBR stack), and I enjoyed it thoroughly.  It’s a humorous blend of mystery and romance, with a heroine who is a “part-time private investigator and full-time grim reaper.”  Charlie sees dead people, which isn’t always as much of an advantage in her p.i. work as you might imagine.  As for the hero, if that’s what he is, well, Charlie spends the span of the book trying to figure out what he is. 

Next I read Joan Hess’ latest Claire Malloy mystery, Deader Homes and Gardens.  I’ve been reading this series (and Hess’ Maggody mysteries, too) since it began, and wouldn’t miss one.  Deader Homes moved a little more slowly than most–or possibly I was just reading more slowly.  The large cast was occasionally confusing, but Claire’s daughter Caron and her BFF Inez (approaching their senior year in high school) got themselves into as much trouble as usual while helping Claire in her unofficial sleuthing.  And Claire, as usual, gets to the bottom of things in her own unconventional way.  She continues to be one of my favorite cozy detectives.

Looking for a change of pace, I opened Zoe Archer’s Collision Course on my Kindle.  This is a very short novel, published by Carina Press, and falls into the subgenre of science fiction romance.   It tilts more toward the (quite explicit) romance end of the scale, and I would have liked to see more of the universe Archer created.  But trap an independent scavenger heroine and a military pilot hero alone together in her small space ship–well, once or twice I wanted to tell them to get out of that bunk and get on with the mission.  By the time the story ended, though, I was ready to download the sequel.  If you like steamy action romance, Collision Course is for you.

I’m still reading the new biography of Queen Elizabeth II.  No hurry–that’s my coffee table book.  On my Kindle I’m enjoying Edgar Rice Burrough’s delightfully old-fashioned The Land That Time Forgot

When I finished Deader Homes and Gardens a few days ago, I had my usual what-shall-I-read-next quandary, until I opened the newspaper the next morning to see multiple stories about the movie version of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games.  I read the book last year, but I hadn’t revisited the harsh world of Panem.  So I picked up the second book, Catching Fire.  So far, just as harsh and compelling as the first book.   Definitely not an old-fashioned tale.

Previous Older Entries