James Scott Bell: The “Write From The Middle” Method

Today we’re welcoming bestselling author and brilliant writing coach James Scott Bell to Writers Helping Writers. James has created a unique writing method that solves the “plotter or pantser” dilemma when it comes to structuring a novel, so please read on!

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JSBI’ve been studying plot and structure for over twenty-five years. Plot was something I did not understand when I started out. I thought writers just sat down at the typewriter (you can read about the typewriter on Wikipedia!) and an intricate story just flowed out of their fingertips. I’d been told you can’t learn to write fiction. You either had this inherent talent or you didn’t.

I believed that for years.

But then one day I decided I would try to learn even if I failed. I had to try. I wanted to write that much. And slowly, through immersion in the craft and daily practice, I started to get it. Then I got published and started to teach it. I love this craft of ours, and love helping other writers.

I’ve written maybe fifty novels (not all of them published!) and I’ve written them in all different ways. I’ve “pantsed’ my way to completed book (no outline or planning) and I’ve outlined others. I’ve done it in between, too. So I know full well the strengths and weaknesses of every approach.

I’ve also been amused by some of the vehement arguments by proponents of a particular method.

But now, finally, I have come up with  way that will bring calm and singing to this whole discussion. I do hope I’m on the short list for the Nobel Peace Prize next year.

What is this novel approach? (Pun intended). Well, it’s a method. In this method you don’t start at the beginning and pants your way through. Nor do you start with the ending and outline the whole doggone thing.

 You actually start from the middle.

 What?

That’s what I said—the dead center of your novel. Because it is here, in what I call “the mirror moment,” that you discover, truly, what your novel is really all about.

Not only that, but if you nail your mirror moment, you immediately deepen the entire book in a way that will impress agents, editors and readers alike. And even yourself.

write from the middle I had to write a book about it. It’s called Write Your Novel From The Middle, and it’s available via Amazon
and Barnes & Noble.

Here’s how I discovered it:

A couple of years ago I decided to study what some writing teachers call the “midpoint.” I never considered it that important, because Act 2 is really about peaks and valleys and increasing danger anyway. And as long as I was writing scenes that were related to the story question, the middle of the book would unfold naturally.

In researching the topic, I discovered there was no agreement on what the midpoint was supposed to do. So I took some of my favorite movies and books and went right to the smack-dab middles and rooted around. What was going on here?

What I found literally knocked my socks off. (Yes, I actually had to go around my house picking up my socks, so revelatory was this).

What I discovered was that the true midpoint was not a scene at all—it was a moment within a scene. And that very moment, if properly rendered, clarified the entire story.

It’s about the Lead character, taking a long, hard look at himself (as in a mirror). He asks, Who am I? What have I become? Who am I supposed to be? An example is the classic film Casablanca. In the dead center is that moment when Ilsa comes to Rick after closing time, to explain about why she left him. He’s drunk, and basically calls her a whore. She cries and leaves. And Rick buries his head in his hands. The rest of the film is about what kind of man Rick will be.

Or, the mirror moment is when the character realizes that the odds are so great he’s probably going to die. This is the very middle of The Fugitive. Dr. Richard Kimble realizes every police officer and fed in the country is after him. He can’t possibly survive.

Now, if you are intentional about what this moment is in your own book, it will illuminate everything for you. The writing will be more unified and organic. If you’re a panster, you’ll be guided on what to pants next. If you’re an outliner, it will help you revise your outline.

In this book, I explain how to do that, no matter what kind of writer you are—pantser, plotter or tweener.

Also included in the book are five of my best tips for becoming a more productive and effective writer of fiction. Think of those tips as the “Just wait! There’s more!” part of the infomercial. If I could include a juicer with this book, I would. Or that thing that makes bacon bowls.

Instead, I offer to you, my fellow writers, the Write From The Middle Method. It works for me and I do believe it will for you.

James Scott Bell lives and writes in Los Angeles. His website is www.jamesscottbell.com You can find him on Twitter and blogging every Sunday at The Kill Zone.

I have James’ new book on my kindle…do you? If you like, put it on your GoodReads list.

Also, Becca is goofing off over at The Writing Nut today, so indulge your inner voyeur as she shows the world her personal writing space!

About ANGELA ACKERMAN

Angela is an international speaker and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also enjoys dreaming up new tools and resources for One Stop For Writers, a library built to help writers elevate their storytelling.

This entry was posted in Guest Post, Story Structure, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

46 Responses to James Scott Bell: The “Write From The Middle” Method

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  5. Catherine Rausch says:

    A few weeks ago I pulled up behind a car with MDL on its liscence plate. I knew God was drawng my attention to the word middle. It took a week or so for me to realize His guidance was about a book/film I’m writing.

    Then this morning I googled, “start your book in the middle” and found your article. Thanks so much, what a wonderful confirmation.

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  10. Dawn Allen says:

    I’m reading this book now and LOVING it. Truly inspirational.

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  13. You all convinced me! And the title is very intriguing. I’ve seen all manner of how-to books, but this one was waving and flashing a neon sign.

    Since I haven’t quite figured out if I’m a plotter or pantser or something in between, I decided to take a shot and find out if I’m more “middle of the road.” 😉

  14. Judy Kentrus says:

    Wow, what a great article and a real eye opener. I’m a panster writer and have written 5 books, self published the first one in November, 2013, finished the sequal and have started the third in the series. I’m already “at the middle” and have a couple of directions I can take, but now that I read about starting a book in the middle, maybe I should have started from the middle. Will be getting James’ book!

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  16. Deb Kemper says:

    I’ve found that I don’t know my characters well enough to write about them until the middle of the book. By the end, we’re intimate and I can write or rewrite the beginning to round out their personalities. Thank you for the confirmation that I’m doing something right! I’m ordering your book.

  17. Karen Rider says:

    Write from the middle –sounds like where the heart of the story is– and writing from the heart can never fail. Thanks for this post and I look forward to seeing this book in my library!

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  19. What a novel idea! Write from the middle. Thank you for switching on the light bulb, Mr. Bell. I’m off to check out your book. 🙂

  20. Cliff Hall says:

    Really looking forward to this one on paper. Any ETA for that Mr. Bell?

    With the help of your previous books (and a bunch of others), I’ve just finished my first novel (and the first in a series), and am revising. The Revision and Self-editing book is a huge help in this phase. (BTW, my wife dubbed that one The Revision Bell, a mashed-up nod to JSB and Pink Floyd’s Division Bell). Also, I really love Art of War for Writers. A great one to turn to for the occasional random inspiration.

    Keep on keepin’ on, Mr. Bell. You rock.

  21. Thank you Mr. Bell. I’m revising from the middle as of today. My new story will be written from the middle. Love your books and I thought I had them all. But this one escaped me. I will order it now. 🙂 Thanks Ange and Becca for having him over.

  22. I’m intrigued!
    Just finished Plot and Structure for the third time!

  23. Corrie Thompson says:

    I agree, every novel revolves around this shift. There always has to be a moment where the character sees the split in the woods and has to decide which path to travel. It’s never easy, but it is one of the most intimate and explanatory moment of the character. From the middle you can see how far you have to come and how far you want to go. This method is very accurate.

  24. Jovanna says:

    Writing from the middle has always and still continues to amuse and baffle me in turns. My writing partner in primary school taught this (aka my little sister – and yes, we were very serious about writing when we were little. Not so much now. We just have fun and avoid each other’s stories, because we can’t agree on anything much any more and my stories scare her too much). She always started with the middle and then worked her way outwards. I always started with an idea, feeling or moment that I wanted the story to involve. Then I would write that story from the beginning in order to express that idea/feeling or to include that moment.

    At that age, the teachers always talked about plots and outlines, but my sister and I strongly disagreed. I never wrote according to a plot and never outlined anything (mostly because if I did that, the story would end and all I wanted to know is what happened in the story, so if the story ended, it would never be written). My sister never started from anywhere but the middle. We’re a bit more flexible now though. I feel that there are some stories that are plotted outline stories and there are some that are start from the beginning one and stories that are start from the ending and some that are start from the middle. Still… I enjoy it when I just start writing and see what comes of it – without knowing whether it is beginning, middle or end. Then again, I’m not writing for a particular audience when I do that.

    Still, it’s nice to see the ‘write from the middle’ school of thought being aired.

  25. :Donna Marie says:

    OK, disappointed 🙁 It’s only available as an e-book! I don’t want to read it on my computer; I want paper 🙁 Can anyone tell me how many pages it is?

  26. :Donna Marie says:

    OK, I recently told myself I have to STOP gathering books and articles and the res of what’s become a plethora of “how to write” information because my life won’t allow time to read them all and actually write! lol So now, it seems this may HAVE to be added since, once I really attack my novel series, I want to do it in the most efficient way I can. This sounds like it will REALLY help with that! Thanks, James, and everyone 🙂

  27. fmclaren says:

    I’m intrigued by this concept, as I’ve been working my way through another craft book (Writing The Breakout Novel by Donald Maass), and I think that the middle of the book can sometimes become lost in a swamp of other elements. It’ll be interesting to see this handled from another direction. Thanks for sharing and I look forward to reading your book! 🙂

  28. I am realizing that this is something that I already do. I’ve never really analyzed it though. Thank you for this intriguing post. I will definitely take a look at Mr. Bell’s work. Sounds helpful.

  29. Sounds like a great book to learn craft from!!

  30. Wow! This book sounds intriguing! I’m sure this one will be just as helpful as James Scott Bell’s other books (which I all love)! Thanks for letting us know. And so happy to have Becca on my blog today!

    Nutschell
    http://www.thewritingnut.com

  31. Julie Glover says:

    I am intrigued. James Scott Bell’s books have been so helpful before, I will check this one out also. Thanks!

  32. James Scott Bell says:

    Thanks, all, for the wonderful comments. You know what? I’m just as excited about this as you all are. When I first realized what was going on, I felt like little flashbulbs popping all over my skin. It STILL excites me. I’m grateful to you all for your support and kind words.

  33. Lori Schafer says:

    I actually started my first novel from the middle (mostly because I didn’t quite know how the beginning was going to go) and I did find it helped to put the whole book in perspective. I also have to imagine that applying your method of starting from the exact midpoint might help to alleviate the common writer’s problem of the “sagging” middle – it’s less likely to be dull if that’s where the mirror moment happens.

  34. The middle is the writer’s bane in so many ways. I am so excited about the mirror moment! Even in revision, this book will really help, so thank you so much, Jim! 🙂

    Angela

  35. Staci Troilo says:

    I bought the book as soon as I saw it online and devoured it, as I have all of Bell’s other how-to books. This one has been as helpful as the rest. Maybe even more of a revelation. Middles are usually difficult, because they tend to drag. That’s where my characters like to get lost, and I’m a plotter. This book offers a fresh look at the middle, and offers plenty of examples as well. Love it!

  36. So excited about James’ new book. Thanks for being here today! And for continuing to share your knowledge with others :).

  37. Frances Kay Hill says:

    I have a dogeared, much highlighted copy of James Scott Bell’s “Plot & Structure”. I am looking forward to same with “Write Your Novel From The Middle”.

  38. Now this sounds like exactly what I need! What a great idea for a pantster who wishes she was more of an outliner.

  39. Laura Pauling says:

    I already purchased and read this book! Great addition. It always helps to look at story structure in new ways!

  40. SOunds like a great book. Thanks for letting us know about it.

  41. I have such trouble with middles. Not really trouble, but I do think mine can drag. Great post. Thank you so much. Will order the book!

  42. I ordered this for my Kindle a couple of weeks ago. It’s great. Lots of good advice that makes sense.

    I’d recommend this to anybody.

  43. So excited to read this. I love Plot and Structure and have re-read it many times.

  44. Excellent post, thank you! I have a couple of his books waiting for pick up. I can’t wait to get at them. I am in the middle of Sol Stein’s, Stein on Writing”, which is amazing. Thanks guys.

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