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.

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  • 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.

Plot Ideas – James Scott Bell

In continuing going through James Scott Bell’s book, Write Great Fiction – Plot & Structure, I’ve reached the point where he talks about Plot Ideas

Now, I’ve always thought the ideas were the easy part and it was the getting-ideas-from-head-to-page part that made many of us sweat blood and turn the air blue with obscenities.  However, it could be that we’re approaching plot ideas incorrectly.

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Do I have an idea?

question-mark James Scott Bell has an entire chapter devoted to this which should set some alarm bells ringing if you think plot ideas are easy to come by.  The chapter opens with a bit of a revelation; not all ideas are equal. Here, Bell considers that whilst notions themselves are plentiful, these should then be developed into ideas, and then the best of those taken forwards as plot ideas. Looking back in retrospect, I would consider many of my so-called ideas tucked away in my notebook as being simply nothing more than notions.

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Who are you?

man-159771_640 Interestingly, the filter that is used to decide which ideas are best is yourself. Due to this, Bell places an emphasis not just on “write what you know”, but also “write who you are” – developing a plot idea that doesnt really match who you are could be as doomed as writing a plot based on something you know little about.

Example questions to consider are;

  • What are your fears?
  • What are your flaws?
  • What are your major strengths?
  • What are your annoying habits?
  • What is your philosophy of life?

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How do i do it?

10270698-mechanical-gears-close-up-industrial-grunge-background In terms of generating plot ideas, many of us still utilise notebooks, scraps of paper or recording devices as a way to capture those little nuggets of inspiration.  However, Bell suggest that there are some ways that we can drive out these ideas onto the page (or screen).

To do this, he suggests that a few rules need to be followed.

  • Schedule a regular time
  • Get yourself into a relaxed state
  • Allow thirty minutes of un-interrupted time.
  • Let your imagination come up with anything it likes and record it all
  • Do NOT censor yourself, don’t try to edit, just pump out the ideas
  • Have fun doing it
  • Save all of your ideas

Bell suggests that this process can be repeated as often as necessary, but he does state that after two or three of these sessions, it is time to nurture the ideas and bring the better ones out into something more…

….which I’ll cover in another post later this week.

First lines…

I’m researching beginnings of a story in some detail for my website, but it got me thinking about first lines and what they are, how they are used and if they actually work.

It’s common knowledge for many authors that the first, few lines in a story carry a bit of extra weight above all others (it could be argued that the closing lines do as well, but if the reader doesn’t turn to page 2.. )

The reason for this is that they have an additional role to perform other than starting the story and this role can be defined in a number of ways;

  •  a promise to the reader,
  •  a simple sales pitch,
  •  a hook (probably most common) 

There is a short BBC interview here with Richard Ford where he discusses a few of these as the interviewer feels his opening lines may give too much away.

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