[Reading Room] Golden by James Scott Bell


Author James Scott Bell, as well as being a successful lawyer, novelist and writing coach, has been a good friend to StoryADay (giving us both an interview and a writing prompt for last year’s StoryADay May).

So of course, I wanted to like his new story, which veers from his usual style. No mysteries here, no fast-paced action, just the story of a guy dealing with the legacy of something in his past that he’s not proud of.

Writing (and publishing) this story was a big leap for Bell (as he explained when he announced it). he was nervous. It wasn’t like anything he’d ever written before and he was worried that he might fall flat on his face.

Don’t you feel like that, a lot of the time when you sit down to write? I know I do.

So I went into this story wanting to like it. but I wasn’t sure I was going to. I mean, what do I care about a middle-aged, middle-class divorced father on a playdate with his son?

Well, Bell quickly made me care. He does it by using all the craft available to him. Within the first paragraph I’ve learned a lot about the guy, his divorce, the ex-wife. Look how much information he packs into sentences 3 & $ of the story — and not just information, but attitude, character background, exposition, the whole shebang:

“Judy and I reached an amicable settlement on custody, mainly because I didn’t want to fight her anymore. Her family is well off and were not shy about retaining the biggest shark tank in L. A.”

The story is about more than just a bitter divorcé, though. Rather it is about a father reliving something that happened when he was a kid, a little older than his son.

One of the things I noticed about this story (and all of Bell’s writing) is the strength of the narrator’s voice when he’s writing in first person. It is always dipping with character, attitude and is firmly rooted in wherever the character is from (usually L. A.). In this story, even when he takes the character back in time to his teenage years, the voice is distinctive and unmistakably the voice of a teen,

“That’s what got him in bad with Robbie Winkleblack…”

“I ran away, too, but I wasn’t laughing. I was thinking it was all over for me now. I’d be kicked out of school, maybe thrown into juvie.”

How can you make readers care about your characters whether or not they think they are going to?

Read James Scott Bell’s article on why he wrote this and why short stories are so awesome

[Writing Prompt] Guest Prompt from James Scott Bell

Today’s prompt is from best-selling novelist and popular writing teacher James Scott Bell. Thanks, Jim

The Prompt from JSB

Write about your antagonist’s life at the age of sixteen. What were the events that shaped this character back then, and still haunt today?

James Scott Bell is a best-selling author of books for writers and thrillers like Deceived, Try Dying, Watch Your Back, and One More Lie (International Thriller Writers Award finalist).  He writes frequently for Writer’s Digest magazine and blogs every Sunday at The Kill Zone. You can find some of his books for authors here.

Tips from Julie

  • Choose the antagonist/villain of a previous story.
  • Or choose the antagonist of a work-in-progress or the novel you’ve been planning to write but can’t get a handle on.
  • Remember that an antagonist isn’t necessarily the villain — just the character that gets in the way of your hero’s dream

Go!

[Prompt] May 20 – Revenge

I saved this one for last (in the plot prompts series) because it has the potential to be the most fun of all!

If you’re a writer, the chances are you think a lot (too much?) about everything that happens to you. And you probably remember every little slight anyone has ever perpertrated upon you.

Now’s your chance to have your revenge.

Today you will write a revenge story. (Use examples from real life if you like!)

If you want to keep your main character sympathetic, make sure they’re seeking revenge for something outrageously unfair and that the bad guys are really bad. And make sure that your main character doesn’t just slide through the revenge process unchanged.

Of course, it doesn’t have to end well for your main character. Maybe they start out nice-but-wronged and end up avenged-but-twisted. Or maybe your protagonist is a real bad apple, to start with.

As usual, keep the scale of your story small: focus on one incident – probably the moment of confrontation. Start right in the action and show the backstory in dialogue, allusions, images. Bring the story to a climax and show us how it has affected your main character as s/he walks off into the sunset.

Write A Story of Revenge

Go!

Thanks to James Scott Bell for a week’s worth of inspiration. Check out the StoryADay.org exclusive interview with JSB, his Plot & Structure book, or any of his suspense novels, zombie legal thrillers (who could resist?!), historical romance or books for writers.

[Prompt] May 19 – The Quest

This week’s prompts are inspired by ‘plot patterns’ from James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure.

Today your hero is restless. S/he can’t simply live the way everyone else does. Your hero needs to go on a quest.

Whether this quest (and what they seek) is literal or figurative, make sure the goal is something absolutely critical to their survival, and the obstacles huge.

(In a short story you may only be able to give them one obstacle as the set-piece but you can use the action & dialogue to

  • Imply a whole lot about who they are,
  • Explain why they are here and
  • Show the scale of the quest before and after this point,

If you pay attention to doing this, you’ll end up with a complete  story, not just a trailer for a novel

Send Your Character On A Quest

Go!

[Prompt] May 18 – The Loner

This prompt is inspired by ‘plot patterns’ from James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure.

Your prompt today revolves around a protagonist who holds him/herself apart from the rest of their society. Perhaps they are an anti-hero, perhaps a loner, perhaps an introvert in a family of extraverts.

Make something happen to tempt/force this person out of their alone-ness. Will they step into their society during the action of the story? When all is resolved will they stay involved or retreat once again?

Write a story about a loner/anti-hero

Go!

[Prompt] May 17 – The Chase

This week’s prompts are all inspired by ‘plot patterns’ from James Scott Bell’s Write Great Fiction – Plot & Structure.

Write a story in which your protagonist is being chased by someone or something. If you choose to show what/who the hero is running from, make sure that pursuer has a vested interest in catching the hero (make it their obsession). Will your hero get away? Stay on the run? Find a safe haven? Convince their pursuer it’s all been a terrible mistake?

Write A Story About A Chase

Go!

You’re A Writer, It’s What You Do – An Interview With Author James Scott Bell

This week we have an exclusive interview at StoryADay.org with James Scott Bell, the #1 bestselling author of the writing book Plot & Structure, and thrillers like Deceived, Try Dying, Watch Your Back, One More Lie and many more.

He stopped by StoryADay.org to talk about the importance of writing routines and practice — a topic dear to our hearts, and the subject of his book Writing Fiction for All You’re Worth: Strategies and Techniques for Taking Your Fiction to the Next Level.

StADa: Do you consider it important for aspiring writers to have a regular writing routine?

JSB: Boy, do I. In fact, that is the single most important piece of advice I ever got, and I’m glad I got it at the beginning. I do a weekly quota of words and break that down into 6 days (I usually take Sunday off from writing, to recharge my batteries). I keep track of all the new words I write and usually work on two projects or more during any given day. If I happen to miss my daily count I know I can make it up on other days.

The really nice thing is that, at some point, you look up and you have a completed book. It’s done. You did it. It’s a tremendous feeling. Then you have something to edit. And you just keep doing that, over and over again.

StADa:  One look online tells you that there is a lot of competition out there. How can a writer keep his/her motivation up, without becoming discouraged by or envious of other writers who seem to be doing ‘better’?

JSB: There are lots of ways for writers to make themselves miserable. Comparison is one surefire method. Because there is ALWAYS someone else doing better than you are. Always. You don’t even realize that there are lots of people not doing as well as you, either. But either view is wrong. It doesn’t help you to compare with someone selling more, and it doesn’t help you to feel superior to someone who isn’t.

Enough writers, like Ann Lamott and Elizabeth Berg, have written about envy and the like to know that it can sneak up on a writer. If it does you should immediately get lost in your own project. Get to the keyboard. Write your heart out. Soon enough you’ll be into that and the other stuff fades away.

Also, remember this is just one aspect of life. There is a lot more to living well than selling books. First, figure out how to live well. Then write.

StADa: It’s easy to ‘publish’ a work quickly today. What advice would you give the StoryADay community about what to do with the 31 first drafts they’re going to end up with on June 1?

JSB: Congratulations! A first draft is wonderful thing to have. It means a completed work, and that’s always a good thing. Robert A. Heinlein, the famous science fiction writer, once said there are two rules for writing:

  1. 1. You must write
  2. 2. You must finish what you write

Also, don’t think that a finished draft is ready to go out without a strong revision strategy. I wrote a whole book, Revision & Self-Editing, to help writers think that through in a systematic way. It’s important to know what you’re doing at every stage.

I’d also add, be working on your next book. And thinking up ideas for the one after that. And keep this up as long as you live.

You’re a writer, after all. It’s what you do.

 

000OOOooo


Thanks, Jim!

James Scott Bell has been called a writer of “heart-whamming” fiction (Publisher’s Weekly) “a master of suspense” (Library Journal) and a fresh voice in the “territory of Hammett and Chandler.” (Booklist).A former trial lawyer, Jim now writes and speaks full time. He lives in Los Angeles. He blogs every Sunday at The Kill Zone.