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.


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.


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?


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 Pages


A few weeks back, I wrote a post about first lines.  The reason for this was that I seemed to read/hear a lot about how important the first line in a novel was to ‘hook’ in the reader. Personally, I felt that the most popular first lines of novels were simply famous because the book was popular, not the other way around.

Ok, if we move on a bit further, we often hear about how editors will only read a limited section of a manuscript before they decide if the novel is wortwhile, or not. To quote some editors from a post on;

“You can usually tell after a paragraph—a page, certainly—whether or not you’re going to get hooked.” (Chuck Adams, Executive Editor, Algonquin Books)

I know most of what I need to know about a writer’s chops in about a line and a half.” (Dan Conaway, Literary Agent, Writers House)

When you read quotes like that, it makes you wonder if that’s even possible?!?

Well, Ray Rhamey hosts a website called which accepts first-page submissions from amateur writers and then runs a poll to see how many readers would turn over the page, or put the book down.  There is also a small element of editing (although he only admits to reading through a submission once).

The requirements are based on six simple points that he feels should be included in every first page of a novel;

  • Story questions
  • Tension (in the reader, not just the characters)
  • Voice
  • Clarity
  • Scene-setting
  • Character

I found it amusing to read the submissions and then see if my decision to turn the page met with the results of the poll.  After all, if I keep getting it wrong, then it probably shows in my writing also.

What is even more interesting is that Ray often pulls up a first-page from a book that has already been published to see how the author would fare if it was a new submission.

I recommend spending thirty minutes or so on here and see what other people are doing, and how they think about their writing.  At the very least, you’ll be able to gauge your own writing against the submission and see if it boosts your confidence or not.

PS: My next post will probably be called’ “How a single website informed me that my writing sucks!”