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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I’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.
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.
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.
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!