Day 1: James Scott Bell On Plotting

Folks, if you ever get a chance to hear Mr. Bell speak, run, don’t walk. He’s not only an entertaining instructor, he makes even the most difficult concepts easy to digest.

I can’t convey everything he discussed because I never learned to take dictation and my notes are consequentially spotty in places. But I did manage a few gems:

On plotting: Plot should always have death as the ultimate stake:

  1. Physical death is obvious and probably the most commonly used obstacle
  2. Professional death – lose the case, lose your profession. He used “Silence of the Lambs” as an example.
  3. Psychological death – we become less of a person if we lose. I use this to a degree in my story as my character is tempted to kill someone who has betrayed him – someone he looks on as family – but he can’t do it because family is what my hero is about. To kill this beloved traitor means the villain has won and my hero has lost what makes him who he is. So instead, he forgives the traitor and adopts him instead. However, there’s still physical death at stake in my novel.
    The place where you see Psychological Death as a stake most often is in Romance.
    In a Romance, the lovers must obtain their loved one or they become less than who they otherwise might be. Check out “Pride and Prejudice” and you’ll see it. I had one friend comment this morning that it’s a sad commentary on our society that we have to obtain someone else to be fulfilled and complete and that’s not what I’m getting at. It’s not a commentary on society particularly. It’s a comment on Romance in that modern Romance is required to have a happy ending. If it doesn’t, it’s probably a tragedy or the first part of a series. It’s not a Romance.

Hope that’s insightful to you all. As you can see, it did make me stop and think about my work and what the stakes are. What sort of death do your characters face?

11 Responses to “Day 1: James Scott Bell On Plotting”

  1. laurel says:

    Interesting set of distinctions. I wonder where one would place loss of a dream future? Perhaps both professional and psychological?

  2. madisonwoods says:

    I love Laurel's question – it's one I'm currently battling on a personal level, LOL.

    As far as the plots go, I'm glad to see physical death is considered a good stake and not too cliche', since it is the main one I'm using. Also using 'loss of potential' as a sub plot.

  3. Victoria Dixon says:

    I think so, Laurel. After all, in my example psychological and physical were at stake for two of my major characters.

    Thanks for dropping by, Madison. No, physical death is the ultimate loss because all the other "deaths" are encompassed within it. Not a cliche at all and since my book is centered around a civil war, it's one I use a lot. ;D

  4. Karen Lange says:

    Love his stuff! Thanks for sharing this. I have his book, Plot & Structure. This reminds me that I need to read it.
    Have a good weekend,
    Karen

  5. Dara says:

    I have a book too called Plot & Stucture. It's very good.

    I think mine are a combination–psychological and physical. I think psychological is a little stronger though in my plot.

  6. Victoria Dixon says:

    I think the combinations are the strongest route you can take, personally, but you do have to go with what works for your plot.

    He's got a number of books. I've bout The Art of Writing, but haven't started reading yet. ;D

  7. Sandy Shin says:

    Thank you for sharing this!

    What Laurel says, "loss of a dream future," is closest to my current WiP. 🙂

  8. Natalie Aguirre says:

    I love his book Plot & Structure too. That's so awesome that you got to hear him speak.

  9. Victoria Dixon says:

    Oooh boy. Can't believe I wrote: "I bout…"

    It was a LONG week.

    He's an outstanding speaker. He doesn't pontificate or belittle, but encourages and gives a wide variety of teaching tools so if you learn visually, there's a tool. If you learn auditorially, he's got soundbites and movie references, etc. There's something for everyone. He is a movie buff of the 1950s flicks, so if you aren't familiar with the classics, you might want to rent "Casablanca", Hitchcock (any of them) and some of the classic westerns before you rush out to hear him speak. That said, he also uses "Silence of the Lambs" and a few other modern films.

  10. Rahma Krambo says:

    I love James Scott Bell's book too.

    Both Bell and Chris Vogler (A Writer's Journey) and are two of my main tour guides for writing. That's awesome you got to hear him in person!

  11. Victoria Dixon says:

    I haven't read Vogler in awhile now. It might be time to revisit. ;D "Journey" is a must-read.

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