So you wanna write a novel? Great! Set yourself up for success by learning from master craftsman James Scott Bell.
Not only has James written numerous thrillers – including Deceived, Try Dying, Watch Your Back, One More Lie, and the Mallory Caine series – but he’s also the #1 bestselling author of Plot and Structure. His career has been a melding of this two passions: writing and law. First, he attended the University of California, Santa Barbara where he studied writing with Raymond Carver, then he graduated with honors from USC law school and went on to write over 300 articles and several books for the legal profession.
James has served as the fiction columnist for Writer’s Digest magazine, to which he frequently contributes, and has written four craft books for Writer’s Digest Books. A former trial lawyer, James now writes and speaks full time, but fortunately, he took a time-out of his busy schedule to answer a few of our burning questions.
If you want to study with James at Writing Pad, he’ll be teaching a one day class Addictive Fiction: Writing The Knock Out Novel on Sunday, July 14 and Sunday, August 18.
What sparked your transition from trial attorney to full-time writer?
I sort of flowed into it. When I went into practice for myself, I had more time to try writing. When I got a five book contract, things grew from there. I was able to stay connected to the law by writing a law book, which I still keep up, but fiction writing became primary.
You’re the author of the Mallory Caine zombie legal thriller series. What are the crucial elements for keeping readers engaged in a series?
The lead character, of course. I wanted Mallory to be unique–a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer who just happens to be undead. Of course, some people contend all lawyers are undead, but I protest.
Were your thrillers Deceived, Try Dying, Watch Your Back, and One More Lie inspired by true events? If not, can you tell us where you find inspiration for your story ideas?
Try Dying came from a news item I read years ago that haunted me. I kept the clipping. A man shot his wife in LA, drove to a freeway overpass, then shot himself. He fell 100 feet to the freeway below and hit a car, killing the driver. That’s where Try Dying begins. Deceived popped into my head with a ‘what if’ question. What if someone found a load of stolen diamonds and somebody wanted them back? Watch Your Back was me wanting to do a James M. Cain style story. And One More Lie started a great opening chapter I thought up. Then all I had to do was figure out the rest of the story.
You’ve written FOUR books about craft – Plot and Structure, Revision and Self-Editing for Publication, The Art of War for Writers, and Conflict & Suspense. What’s your #1 tip from each?
From PLOT: Make sure your Lead character is forced into the struggle of Act 2. I call this going through “the doorway of no return.”
From REVISION: Write hot, revise cool.
From ART OF WAR: You will understand the business of writing best if you understand that the parties are in this to make money.
From CONFLICT: Trouble is your business. Make more of it.
In your one-day class at Writing Pad, you’ll be teaching everyone about your L.O.C.K. system for writing a novel. Can you tell us a little bit more about that and how you came up with it?
I was trying to learn to plot, to figure out the basic elements that worked every time. I came up with LEAD, OBJECTIVE, CONFRONTATION and KNOCKOUT ENDING. I wrote this up as an article for Writer’s Digest magazine, and it proved so popular I wrote a book around it, Plot and Structure. If a writer gets these elements right, she will never write a weak story. From there, you build into unforgettable.
Here at Writing Pad, we love to learn about different writers’ routines. What’s yours?
Get the coffee going and write early. I try to do a “nifty 350” before I do anything else. If I get those 350 words down right away, the writing day goes much more smoothly. I currently aim for 6000 words a week, taking Sunday off. I do this weekly, because I may have to miss a day for some reason, and can make it up on other days. I use an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of my words. I edit the work I did the previous day, then press on.
Thanks, James! That was helpful and very interesting. We can’t wait for your Addictive Fiction: Writing The Knock Out Novel class this Sunday, July 14 and Sunday, August 18!