Tag Archives: james scott bell

Reader Wednesday

What I'm reading now

Once again, from Write Great Fiction – Plot & Structure (Techniques and exercises for crafting a plot that grips readers from start to finish) – James Scott Bell

Stretching the Emotional (tension)

We humans are a circus of doubts and anxieties. Play them up! Give us the whole show.

To stretch the inner tension, ask these questions to get your raw material:

1.    What is the worst thing from the inside that can happen to my character? (This encompasses a whole universe of mental stakes. HINT:  look to the character’s fears.)

2.    What is the worst information my character can receive? (Some secret from the past or fact that rocks her world can be stalking her through the scene.)

3.    Have I sufficiently set up the depth of emotion for readers before the scene? (We need to care about your LEAD characters before we care about their problems.)


Feel the inspiration reaching out from the screen? Feel it faster – SUBSCRIBE to this blog and rec’v an email every time a new post appears. Poof!

Leave a comment

Filed under Believe, books, Reader Wednesdays, teaching, writers, writers block, writing inspiration

WINNER! and Reader Wednesday

Random.org selected commenter # 1 – That’s you, Beth MacKinney!

Congrats! Pls send me (mjwriter”at”comcast.net) your email contact  info and Mari L.McCarthy will send you her ebook: 27 Days of Journaling to Health and Happiness


And now back to our scheduled programming….

What I’m reading now


From Plot & Structure, by The Great James Scott Bell

Stretching the Physical (tension)

Questions to ask before you write a tense scene involving physical action:

What is the worst thing from the outside that can happen to my character? (This may be in the form of another person, a physical object, or a circumstance outside my character’s control.)

In my Novel-in-progress I’m thinking of a scene in the woods where Lily and Frank are digging up old relics in the dark. They’re found by Frank’s older brother, Vince, who’s been drinking and is belligerent.

What is the worst trouble my character can get into in this scene? (You may come up with an instant answer. Pause a moment and ratchet it up a notch. This may suggest further possibilities.)

Currently, Vince seems like a dangerous physical threat, but Lily fakes him out and she and Frank speed off on the mini-bike, avoiding any real danger. Too boring. Have you ever heard the advice to keep your characters in the room? It’s easy to get them out of trouble quickly and change scenes. But easy doesn’t make for interesting, tense reading. And building trouble, not dodging it, is the key to memorable scenes. So, Vince needs to get closer – be a real threat  – a hint that something terrible could result. Lily, a drunken boy. The dark woods. A scared little brother. Who’s going to be the hero? Will they be too late? How will this scene change the rest of the story? Change the characters?

Have I sufficiently set up the danger for readers before the scene? (Remember, they need to know what’s at stake before they start worrying.)

At this point in the story, Lily is no stranger to verbal abuse, but I don’t show any physical abuse. Perhaps that needs to explored. At this point, we also know that Lily is a tough girl with a sassy mouth, but we haven’t seen her in any confrontations. I think I need to add a few flashbacks of how Lily reacts to her mother’s abuse (cowers from her, folds into herself) to see how she will react to Vince’s threats.  Hm, sounds like I have some re-writing to do!

How can this exercise help your story? Which scene are you working on and what will you do differently to build that physical tension? *Next Week: Building Emotional Tension!



Feel the inspiration reaching out from the screen? Feel it faster – SUBSCRIBE to this blog and rec’v an email every time a new post appears. Poof!



Filed under books, characters, Fiction, Novels, Reader Wednesdays, Writing prompts

Reader Wednesday

How are you guys liking the Reader Wednesday Series? I’m having fun posting my findings…

What I'm reading now

This week, From Write Great Fiction – Plot & Structure (Techniques and exercises for crafting a plot that grips readers from start to finish) – James Scott Bell

RE: the Lead Character

I love creating characters, probably my most favorite part of writing fiction, hence the reason I’m reading several books on developing plot! In Plot & Structure, Bell tells of the four characteristics your lead must have in order to hook the reader and carry them along for the journey of the book, the “why should I care about this character?”

Here are the four, and how my lead character, 16-year-old Lily Capriani, ranks:

IDENTIFICATION: How will readers identify with Lily?

Bell says readers will identify with lead characters using “the marks of a real human being.” Most likely we are 1) trying to make it in the world, 2) a little fearful and 3) not perfect.

This is how Lily is…

1)      Trying to make it in the world…

Surviving her mother’s abandonment

Needing to separate herself from her alcoholic mother and the gossip she left behind

Wanting to study culinary arts overseas to create her own future, far away from her current circumstances

2)      A little fearful…

Hoping her mom will return

Shelters her emotions, keeps a distance

Being stuck on Half Moon Bay Resort forever

Ending up like her mom

3)      Not perfect…

Low self-esteem



SYMPATHY: Why will readers care about Lily? Root for her?

Bell says there are 4 ways to establish sympathy: 1) Jeopardy (physical or emotional trouble) 2) Hardship (facing a misfortune not of her own making) 3) The Underdog (we love rooting for those rags to riches heroes) 4) Vulnerability (we worry about a character who can be manipulated or injured or worse)

Lily evokes SYMPATHY by…

Vulnerability: she is stuck in her current life on the lake, reliving her mother’s abandonment each time she reappears to wreak havoc; Lily has an unsettling suspicion that her Nonna is keeping a terrible secret from her, which would have devastating results on her already unstable life.

LIKABILITY: Why would readers want to hang out with Lily for her journey (through several hundred pages?)

Lily is a likable character because…

She has an empathetic heart, kindness especially towards the elderly (her Nonna, the older resort guests) and underdogs (Frank) who she observes in an abusive situation, even though she struggles with her own distrust of people and need to remain “disconnected” so not to get hurt (mom’s abandonment)

She has a witty sense of sarcasm and humor and some smart ass one-liners

INNER CONFLICT: What inner voices battle within Lily making her a complex, multi-dimensional character?

Lily battles with the decision to leave Half Moon Bay and her Nonna to study culinary arts overseas

She justifies this decision by the need to live her own life and get away from the looming family secret, yet guilt over leaving her elderly Nonna to run the resort.

Lily also battles the improbable dream: that her mom will return sober, wanting to have the perfect mother-daughter relationship. If she leaves, she leaves that dream behind.

So, how does your lead character rank?


Feel the inspiration reaching out from the screen? Feel it faster – SUBSCRIBE to this blog and rec’v an email every time a new post appears. Poof!


Filed under Believe, books, Reader Wednesdays, teaching, writers, writers block, writing inspiration

Reader Wednesdays

What Im reading now

Still gleaning some sound advice from James Scott Bell’s  The Art of War for Writers (fiction writing strategies, tactics, and exercises)

Reminders as I write:

We all have our strong, and not so strong writing tricks, habits and patterns. And we are all trying to become better writers, no matter what our level of experience. We need to expand and stretch in our craft, try new things to enrich our writing.  Bell tells us: Decide what tactics you want to keep at the front of your mind as you write. Keep a list of these reminders with you during writing time. These will change as your writing changes/develops.

Here’s my current list:

THE BIG PICTURE= Remember to look at how the little scenes feed into the whole story; don’t go tangent crazy

DIG DEEPER =  the first draft is OK for simplified, clichéd descriptions, but I need to dig deeper for the perfect word/phrase to paint the precise picture (go easy on the adverbs)

ACTIVE = change those passive verbs to active! >>Anyone have references or exercises they can recommend?

NO TEARS IN THE WRITER…= no tears in the reader – infuse each scene with strong, deep emotions. Stop and reflect first person experiences to bring emotion and truth to the scene.

What are you reading? What are you learning?


Need help for hump day – or any day- to get past the doubt and negativity? How about having these messages of inspiration delivered to your inbox? Click Subscribe at the top of this page. Ask…and you shall receive!


Filed under Advice, books, Reader Wednesdays

Reader Wednesdays

What I'm reading now

I’m a voracious reader, as every writer should be. My fun reading list consists primarily of YA novels, since that is what I write and love to read these days. Perhaps I’ll break down my favorite characters, plot or theme for a post or two. One day.

But this series idea came while I was scribbling away in my hardbound journal while hiding out in Michigan last weekend. Hiding out from the internet, phones, TV, family and pretty much life in general. All that distracts me from Writing. My. Novel. So, while journaling, I was also reading my other favorite genre: books on writing craft and writing life. Like fiction, I can read several books simultaneously (I am easily distracted.) I figured, since I’m reading these great books on craft and doing the exercises or otherwise gleaning knowledge and motivation, why not share my findings with you fine readers? Kind of like an on-line nonfiction book discussion/group/thingamajig. Win-win?

So, let’s start with authors who inspire us and why. In The Art of War for Writers (fiction writing strategies, tactics, and exercises) – James Scott Bell, Bell suggests we find pictures of 3-4 of our favorite authors. Bonus points if the picture reflects the essence of these authors and why you admire them. Mine area always changing, but when I thought about it, I came up with this list…

Laurie Halse-Anderson

~ Laurie Halse Anderson…

  • mass-producing,
  • writing across genres
  • prolific and poetic
  • Her characters make me ache
  • writes about the tough stuff with painful truth
  • words that follow me into bed at night

o   REMINDS ME… to speak from my VOICE


Becca Fitzpatrick

~Becca Fitzpatrick…

  • Was never interested in writing,
  • took a fiction course as a joke
  • if she can do it, I can do it!

o   REMINDS ME…of what’s possible


Stephen King

~Stephen King…

  • The master
  • Determination
  • experience
  • hugely successful
  • always working
  • he’s real and he’ll kick my ass into gear!

o   REMINDS ME…to put the work and extra effort in!


Toni Morrison

~Toni Morrison….

  • A legend
  • Weaves worlds with her words
  • Plucks your heart
  • Writers in layers, each scene peeled back to reveal a new surprise

o   REMINDS ME… of the beauty of writing, why I want to keep doing this

>>>>>>>>What do you think? Who would be on your list and can you find these authors’ photos to hang around your writing area – filling your space with experience, passion, motivation and art? I’d love to hear who you selected…


Filed under books, Reader Wednesdays