Nurturing Plot Ideas – James Scott Bell

In my second post on how James Scott Bell suggest we deal with plot ideas, I’m covering how to nurture them (the post on getting the ideas can be found here).

The first thing that Bell suggests is to choose a favourite idea and then choose a hook, line and sinker for it;

  • Hook – this is the main reason that a reader should choose your book over any other after just browsing the covers.
  • Line – the blurb either on the front or rear cover should be able to encapsulate your book idea in just a few sentences.
  • Sinker – this is one (or more) negativities that could bring your whole idea crashing down. Be honest and true with these.

Once you’ve chosen an idea and developed a hook, line, and sinker for it. It’s time to ask yourself a few relevant questions;

  • Has this type of story been done before? The most common answer here is ‘YES’. If so, work out what you can either add, or remove to make the story seem fresh.
  • Is the setting ordinary? Again, consider where you want to set your story without it coming across as cliche or stale.
  • Are the characters you’re thinking of made of old stock? Similar to the ‘type of story’ question, what can you do to bring a fresh perspective to your characters that may not have been done before.
  • Is the story big enough? Bigger may not necessarily mean better, but you should think about whether the elements of your story are big enough to reach a wide-range of readers.
  • Is there some other element you can add that is fascinating? Look at your idea from all angles, tear it apart and put it back together to see if there is something that can be added to make it better.

Once these have been addressed, Bell suggest a pass through of what he calls the Bell’s Pyramid. The premise here is that the pyramid has three levels to it; passion, potential, and precision. Each of these levels must be applied against your particular idea.


  • Passion – this is the base of the pyramid and should underpin the rest of the levels. Here, we’re looking at how much passion you have as a writer to take your ideas further. If the idea itself doesn’t give you that hairs-on-the-back-of-your-neck feeling, then chances are it won’t for your readers. More importantly, if you’re not that invested in the idea, then you may never actually finish the novel.
  • Potential – here we’re asked to look at how much of a reach our idea would have to an external, and commercial, audience. Looking at it from a publisher’s side, would you consider this idea / novel to be able to recoup the costs expended in getting it to the shelf? Doing research is important here, as well as genre as we all know some genres sell better than others (I’m looking at you, Crime).
  • Precision – this is quite the simple one. Here, we’re asked to be precise in what you need to drive your particular goal forwards. Once you’ve decided on what you’re doing, you shouldn’t deviate from that goal. Furthermore, you should actively remove anything that may impact on that.

I think it’s fair to say that none of this advice is particularly earth-shattering. However, I think it’s also fair to say that we all can sometimes miss the obvious and, if this advice does nothing more than remind us to do some of these things, then I think it can be worthwhile.

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