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Write Your Novel From The Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone in Between Paperback – March 15, 2014
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Brilliant writing coach James Scott Bell has created a unique writing method that solves the "plotter or pantser" dilemma when it comes to structuring a novel. - Angela Ackerman, writershelpingwriters.net
"Your approach brought a clarity to my current WIP that I knew was missing. I won't be going back to my old way of outlining. I've already gifted a copy to a writer I'm mentoring. I'll be doing more of that. It's just that good." - Kathleen Y'Barbo, author of Beloved Counterfeit
From the Author
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 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.
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This book might be a game changer for plotters and pansters. Many books claim to be flexible, but appear to be some version of "outlining lite". There's nothing wrong with that, but it's not really new information.
This plotting from the mirror moment out is the perfect compromise between writing a 50 page outline and writing the entire book by the seat of your pants and then revising heavily. It's a bare bones structure, either from the plot or character standpoint, that allows you to fill in the blanks as much or as little as your writer's heart desires.
There's also extra bonus goodies at the back of the book, including one of Bell's best exercises. It shows you how to channel your creavity to mimic the lovely period right before falling asleep. I use it almost every time I write and it's made a huge difference.
All in all, this book is worth every dollar, and much more than the price he's charging. He remains one of my go-to authors to insta-buy from, and someday I will realize a life long dream of attending one of his seminars. Until then, we can be content with the writing books he puts out.
I find it useful to look at your WIP from this point of view in a way to check for weakness in your storyline which you would not otherwise notice. What is so interesting for me is that I am now taking a course on Shakespeare in which the professor also claims that Shakespeare has this same ‘hinge’ point at the end of his act three in his five act plays. It is at this hinge point that the play gets locked into the path it will follow until the end. Like much of Bell, Shakespeare’s characters are very concerned with finding out what kind of person they really are…that is, who they are as opposed to who they have appeared to be.
The ‘who am I really’ hinge point works classically well for the bard and it would be hard to improve on it. I believe that Bell has intuitively seen what makes great writing work and last through the ages. Bell has expanded this idea and make it easily obtainable for many different genres.
The author shows how this method can be used by plotters and pantsers while at the same time allowing them to mostly follow their natural writing MO. While I think ‘starting in the middle’ is as useful as using a preflight checklist before taking off in your private plane, I don’t think it is per se a method that either plotters or pantsers will actually adopt.
As a plotter I want to be sure the book is going to be a great book before I being the project. So I write the last chapter first. I write a chapter that I call a ‘stand up and cheer I can’t wait to buy your next book’ ending. I can’t stand the idea of working on a book for a year or more and not knowing the whole time if it is going to be a good book. That does not make sense if your goal is to make money from your writing. First write a great ending then make that ending come true. This way you can keep your eyes on the prize; you can look up and see the shining city on the hill; you can find motivation during the dark moments of the writer’s soul because you know there really is a prize behind door three. You know because you put it there. A pantser, after a year of work, may have to take the only ending that will work given what came before. This is no way to get a stand up and cheer ending. Also, when the dark days of the sagging middle get the pantser down, it is easy to think the whole effort is not worth the candle.
To sum it up, I will use the guidance offered in this book which I feel is a great return on my investment in time and money. However, I will still write the way I write but I will be going back and making sure my midpoint moments take place and, when possible, I’ll have them take place on all three levels Bell mentions. I see the midpoint mirror moment as a handy midcourse correction on the way to the moon.
Actually, there is a lot more writing advice in this book as a bonus and just that material alone would be well worth the price.
I will be reading this book several more times so that the ‘trip’ to the middle becomes second nature to me.
James Scott Bell Does it Again! A five star return on investment!
That one good bit of advice was the Mirror Moment. That point when the main character reaches his or her low point. The problems in the story have piled on the main character to the point where he or she isn't sure if he or she can go on. And this moment happens smack dab in the middle of the book.
Since learning of this moment, I've started to write with it in mind. I find it does help me to structure the story or book so that the problems and adversities the main character faces have a direct effect upon him or her. So in that sense, I suppose the book was maybe worth 4 bucks.
Being a pantser, I found Bell's obsession with outlining (he is a self-confessed outliner) of minimal value. I also feel he does not understand pantsers and is subtly demeaning towards them. If you're a pantser and can get by that, then the book may have value for you.
The main thing to take away from this book is that the main character's crisis curve starts high, goes into the pits, and then rises at the end. An inverse Bell Curve. In telling you that, I may have just saved you 4 bucks.