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Three Things I've Learned from James Scott Bell

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

James Scott Bell came to Cincinnati on September 15th-16th with his next level fiction writing seminar. I've been studying what I call, "The Bell Method" for years now. Why you ask? Because Jim is one out-standing teacher. In the words of Hunter, for those of you who remember the show, "It works for me." I think it works for a lot of other writers too.

 I met Jim at Mt. Hermon a half dozen years ago. I was unpublished and had been studying the craft for at least 17 years. That's a long time to hang on to a dream of getting published, but I'm just too stubborn to quit. So of course the first thing I learned from Jim is rather obvious for those with a stubborn streak, keep writing. :) Yep that's it. And I did. It's the quality of our books and word of mouth that will sell our books. If you want to be successful you have to keep turning out quality work.

This past weekend though we focused on important areas that I can't come close to covering here. But here's three of my favorites.


     Most of us know that when editors and agents read a manuscript they may very well look for white space before they start reading. That's frequently a clue about use of dialogue in a manuscript verses long sections of narrative and/or description.  We want to write dialogue that moves our stories forward and shows conflict between characters, reveals speech patterns, and pick the best words we can  in order to capture our readers attention.

     The Voice Journal is another tip that Jim suggested. I'd never done this before and it was a lot of fun and very useful. For instance if you want to work with the way your characters sound, make a voice journal and start writing the way you think that character would talk. For instance, in my novel Secrets of the Heart, I have an orphan named Danny. My heroine Madeline is trying to make an impact on his life.
          "What would you like to be when you are grown?"
          "Dunno. Do mad folk get to be somethin' when they's growed up, Lady Majesty?"
          "Danny, you are strong-minded. You are not mad."
          "Sure am. Mr. Sullivan says I'm batty more than most my age."
          "I'll have a talk with Mr. Sullivan. You are as normal as any boy your age. Just because you have no parents does not make you mad."
          "You sure?"
          "I'm sure."
          "Good. Then I'll be . . . a pickpocket."

So you see how I could practice this type of conversation when I'm developing my characters even if I do consider myself an organic writer and not the well organized outliner.


          Jim uses film when he teaches and I love this. This clip from Pride and Prejudice is one of my favorites and not one of the clips that Jim used. Lizzy and Mr. Collins Listen carefully to the dialogue as the scene progresses. Another trick I learned somewhere along the way long ago is that you might also want to watch the clip without the use of sound if you want to improve on actions that may accompany the dialogue you write. So much fun. So seek out some of your favorite movies and have fun improving upon your craft.


          I love writing in scenes but I don't do it in a very organized fashion. I've even bought the software called, Scrivener and haven't used it yet. I'm going to try it as I develop my next series and see how it goes. Jim reminded us to cut out all the dull parts or the parts people like to skip. If there's no conflict, no internal pressure, and everyone is happy then we don't have much of an interesting story. We want to make our readers worry about what will happen to our characters. And as an ex-trial lawyer Jim used a great acronym we should all remember.

Unexpected in

There was so much information packed into this seminar. If you ever get the chance to learn from Jim don't miss the opportunity. Jim makes learning fun! Oops, was that an exclamation mark?  Jim blogs every Sunday at The Kill Zone.  

Jim served as fiction columnist for Writer's Digest magazine, to which he frequently contributes, and has written four craft books for Writer’s Digest Books: Plot & Structure, Revision & Self-Editing, The Art of War for Writers and Conflict & Suspense.

Craft is important to all of us who seek to improve our writing. What's one thing you learned this past year that's made a difference in your skill level?


  1. Hi Jill,

    I think this year I've learned most about plotting. Jim's seminar was a big help as is Scrivener.

    Great meeting you,


    1. Hey Sally,
      Thanks for visiting. I'm going to test Scrivener out soon since I bought it last November. :)

  2. Hey Jillian. Great post. Very nice summary and I can imagine this is only a fraction of Jim's class. Even though I'm a member of THE KILL ZONE, I learn so much from our authors and followers. Our online TKZ community is amazing and you are a very big reason our blog works.

    My favorite thing I learned this year came from discovering the 3-act screenplay plotting structure & the big W. I did a post on my epiphany after I read Michael Hauge's screenplay book. My TKZ post was AN AUTHOR'S BUCKET LIST ON PLOTTING (something like that). I used this method to write a 30-page proposal for a YA series & created a detailed outline for all 3 books, detail I've never envisioned for a full series. It felt good to implement my blog post & that thrilled me.

    Thanks for your post, Jillian.

    1. Hey Jordan,
      What fun to see you here. As you know I love The Kill Zone, I tell folks to visit all the time. And I went back and found your post here:

      I'm going to have to study this a bit closer and the 35 comments. :) I'm not an out-liner. In fact, I had this discussion with Jim. I wrote another post recently called The Organic Writer after reading the latest article on Patricia Cornwell. Jim presented his expanded 3 act structure ideas. I've got to create a new proposal and must figure which way to develop this that will work for me.

      I have a CD of Michael Hauge and Chris Vogler called, The Hero's 2 Journeys. Love it, but haven't read the screenplay book. Appreciate your thoughts, Jordan.

  3. Hey, Miz Kent--you know I loved the seminar and sharing some time with you. And your book Chameleon is now on my nightstand, soon TBR. Can't wait. Hugs.

    1. Hi Libby,
      I look forward to us spending some writing time together here in the near future. So glad you live closer now. Glad we have the JSB seminar in common.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. Jillian, it was great having you in the seminar, and seeing how your career has gone. You are an example of someone who has done it the right way and become a consummate professional. Well done.

    And thanks for the good word.

  6. Thanks Jim,
    Loved the seminar and the camaraderie of the group. Your teaching style is always fun and engaging. Look forward to your insights at The Kill Zone.

  7. Jillian, thanks for summing these great tips up for writers! I use my notes often from Jim's novel writing workshop. His book Conflict & Suspense is a #1 go to also for me in plotting and revisions. What's great about how Jim teaches is that his methods are simple and easy to format to your own work. No complex formulas here. And simple works for me.

  8. Oh how I wish I could have been there! Jim is a fantastic teacher. Thanks for giving us a taste.

  9. Hi Donna,
    I always find valuable ideas in Jim's books. And he understands well what we go through from novice to professional writer. I love keeping it simple too.

    Hey there, Serena!
    You would have loved this but I know that deadlines loom.


  10. Something Unexpected in Every Scene. I like that. I need to post it on my desk. Great blog, Jillian. Sounds like it was a great seminar.

  11. You should have come. You would have loved it!

  12. LOVE JSB! I had to honor to take one of his workshops years ago and I just loved it. He really does make learning fun. And such an awesome. genuine soul.

    Thank you for sharing what you learned. I am adding this below to my external hard drive!

    Unexpected in

  13. Hey Mart,
    It was a great learning experience. Just love his use of film as he teaches and sense of humor. Jim's always the enthusiastic teacher no matter what's happening in the publishing industry. Glad you dropped by to read the post.

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