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James Scott Bell is the author of more than fifteen novels and a Christy Award winner for Final Witness in 2000. His fiction has been reviewed in Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Library Journal, and the Library Review. He's the author of Write Great Fiction: Plot & Structure, Write Great Fiction: Revision & Self-Editing, and The Art of War for Writers. He writes for Writer's Digest magazine. Bell currently teaches fiction writing courses at Pepperdine University and is a regular on the conference circuit. His website is www.jamesscottbell.com. He lives in West Hills, California.
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JAMES SCOTT BELL is a bestselling and award winning suspense writer, and one of the top writing coaches in the country. He writes in both the traditional and indie publishing realms. Writing as K. Bennett, he is the author of the Mallory Caine, Zombie-at-Law series, which begins with PAY ME IN FLESH. In 2012 he became the first writer to have a self published work nominated for the prestigious International Thriller Writers Award (for the novella ONE MORE LIE). He was the fiction columnist for Writer's Digest magazine and has written four popular books for the Writers Digest line: Plot & Structure, Revision & Self-Editing, The Art of War for Writers and Conflict & Suspense. Jim taught novel writing at Pepperdine University and continues to teach at numerous writers conferences in the United States, Canada and London. He attended the University of California, Santa Barbara where he studied writing with Raymond Carver. He lives and writes in L.A. He blogs weekly at Kill Zone -- www.killzoneauthors.blogspot.com
The new information is definitely helpful for writing conflict and suspense, but not as essential. Bell's step-by-step how to write a novel "LOCK" system from Plot and Structure is reprinted here in its entirety. If you're only going to buy one how-to write (any type of fiction) book, even if you want to write action or suspense, I'd still go for Plot and Structure first every time. Why? Because of its broader focus. It covers a lot more situations. It''s like a toolbox, whereas this book is more of a specialized wrench set. They do complement each other and go hand-in-hand, so if you don't mind the information overlap and just want more good insights and advice from Bell, then get this book, too. Just know you're only getting maybe half a book's worth of new stuff.
Again, the new stuff here is very good, some of it quite brilliant, and there are enough "aha!" gems to make it worth adding to your collection . . . just maybe not for full price. My 4-star rating reflects that.
I can trace the success in my own career to James Scott Bell's advice for writers. I was working on a rewrite for my first truly successful novel when I read Plot & Structure and identified both a flaw in my antagonist and the resolution for a major plot weakness. I worked through the revisions with my fingers on fire and landed an agent shortly thereafter. My well-worn copy of Bell's book Revision & Self-Editing has proven equally useful and I recently gobbled up an ebook of the collected wisdom from his writing blog. When I saw that Bell had a new book about the art of writing, I bought it and started reading at once.
True to form, as I read Conflict & Suspense I found myself thinking of my current work in progress and kept running to the computer to jot down solutions to my problems or mark potential places to deepen conflict. And even though Bell's work focuses on plot, the character insights I gained from the book will prove equally valuable.
If I had any quibble with Conflict & Suspense--and it's a minor one--it's that having written so much about the art of writing, Bell sometimes trods familiar ground in this latest book. Some of his favorite themes--The Big Lie, the LOCK method, and Bell's pet theories about characterization--made predictable appearances. In addition, Bell's books all draw on the same examples from fiction and cinema. However, this material serves both as an important review and as a foundation for other, newer ideas and exercises.
I bought this book as an ebook, but will be buying a paper copy as well so that I can mark it up and put it on my shelf next to Bell's other books.
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Like any good writer, I enjoy the guilty pleasure of stealing time to read the latest in writer's reference books. While I already have Mr. Bell's "Plot and Structure" and "Revision and Self-Editing", I was eager to read "Conflict & Suspense." This review is for the Kindle version.
I have three measuring sticks for writers reference books--1) Do I set it down easily after a few pages or paragraphs, 2) Does my highlighter get a workout, and 3) Do I find myself automatically thinking of my manuscript(s) and how to apply what I'm reading.
"Conflict & Suspense" passes the test easily. While I generally use the term "unputdownable" with regard to fiction, I found it applied to this book as well. I finished the book over about 4 days, with a marathon session where I couldn't stop reading on the fourth day. My Kindle highlighting feature was working overtime and the book kept my mind busy thinking about my WIP and how to enhance the conflict and suspense using the techniques I was reading.
Not all writers reference books are equal. I may read some and find just one thought in the whole book I can use or worse, they just don't spark my imagination with regard to my WIP. Others, like "Conflict and Suspense" are chock full and probably two thirds of the text are marked up with highlights.
While you will see some material in this text that you've seen before in his earlier books (such as the LOCK System), don't discount it. It is still chock full of tons of great advice and practical tips on infusing your book with both conflict and suspense.
The book does not employ heavy use of charts or graphs at all, but one of the charts in there, as is usual with e-readers, is very difficult to read even in zoom unless you have x-ray vision.Read more ›
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While Bell recycles some of this material from his excellent earlier book Plot & Structure, he repackages it effectively and clearly. His examples are solid, but some of his discussion goes on too long and beats a dead horse. I also wish he would keep the focus more strictly on novels (the book is about writing fiction, after all) and less on films, especially since a few of those films involve radical rewrites of novels.
His specific topics are well-ordered and very clear. I prefer his earlier book, but you won't go wrong with this one.
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