Wednesday, October 7, 2015

James Scott Bell Shares His Process For Brainstorming A New Story

James Scott Bell is the #1 bestselling author of Plot & Structureand thrillers like Don’t Leave MeBlind Justice,Deceived, Try Dying, Watch Your Back, and One More LieJim attended the University of California, Santa Barbara where he studied writing with Raymond Carver. He graduated with honors from the University of Southern California law school, and has written over 300 articles and several books for the legal profession. He has taught novel writing at Pepperdine University and numerous conferences in the United States, Canada and Great Britain.

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 & StructureRevision & Self-EditingThe Art of War for Writers and Conflict & SuspenseHis Write Your Novel From The Middle was an instant #1 Amazon bestselling writing book. He has developed an online, interactive program that will help you write your novel, step-by-step. It’s the next best thing to having JSB in the room with you as you type! 

A former trial lawyer, Jim now writes and speaks full time. He lives in Los Angeles. He blogs every Sunday at The Kill Zone

Jill here. I met James Scott Bell at my first big writers conference. I had signed up to take the mentoring track. This was a class made up of ten students and one mentor. Before the conference, we each had to read the other nine student's chapters, critique them, and when we got to the conference, every one of us had a turn in the hot seat where we got to hear what the rest of the group (and our mentor) thought about our stories. James Scott Bell was our fearless mentor, and we all learned a ton from him. The neat thing is, of the ten of us in that class, six (that I know of) went on to publish several novels each. (Jillian Kent, James L. Rubart, Kathryn Cushman, Shawn Grady, Rachel A. Marks, and me.) Pretty sweet, huh? That's what a good teacher/encourager can do. Jim Bell has always been both to me.

Today he is going to share with you all his process for brainstorming a new story. I hope that it will be as helpful to you as it was to me. 

I do the following at the beginning of any project.

- A free form journal, interacting with myself, asking myself questions, going deeper into why I think I want to write this, and also putting down plot and character ideas as they come. I take several days (at least), writing without stopping, but re-reading the journal each day, doing some editing on what I wrote the day before, highlighting the best ideas, etc.

- At some point I take a stack of 3 x 5 cards to Starbucks and just write down scene ideas. Random. Whatever vivid scene comes to mind. I might prompt myself by doing the dictionary game (opening a dictionary to a random page, picking a noun, and riffing off that). When I have 30-40 scenes I shuffle the deck and pick two cards at random and see what the connection suggests.

- Finally, I want my concept set down in a three-sentence elevator pitch that I know is absolutely solid and marketable. Sentence 1 is character + vocation + current situation. Sentence 2 starts with "When" and is what I call the Doorway of No Return--the thing that pushes the Lead into the main plot. Sentence 3 begins with "Now" and the death (physical, professional, or psychological/spiritual) stakes. Example:

*Will Connelly is an associate at a prestigious San Francisco law firm, handling high level merger negotiations between computer companies.*

*When Will celebrates by picking up a Russian woman at a club, he finds himself at the mercy of a ring of small-time Russian mobsters with designs on the top-secret NSA computer chip Will’s client is developing.*

*Now, with the Russian mob, the SEC, and the Department of Justice all after him, Will has to find a way to save his professional life and his own skin before the wrong people get the technology for mass destruction.*

That gives me the foundation. Then it depends on whether you like to plot, or are more of a pantser. But I will say that I personally go to the mirror moment in the middle now, before I start writing because, for me at least, it influences everything else.

Jill again. Thanks so much, Jim, for sharing your process with us! Guys, if you've never read one of Jim's novels, you should. They're awesome. And if you've never read one of his writing books, you should. They will help you.

How is your brainstorming process similar or different? Share in the comments below.

To thank Jim for coming on Go Teen Writers, we are giving away a copy of of his book 27 Writing Blunders - And How Not To Make Them. There's only one way to enter: sign up for Jim's email list on or before October 16. 

Contest is over.
Congratulations to our winner, Helen Grant! 

Learn more about 27 Writing Blunders - And How Not To Make Them on AmazonBarnes and NobleKobo, and by reading below.

Ever wonder why some books shoot to the top of the bestseller lists? And others that you think should, don't? It's usually a matter of mistakes that could have been avoided!
#1 bestselling writing coach James Scott Bell has analyzed thousands of manuscripts over the years, by both new and experienced writers, and noticed certain errors that keep showing up to take readers out of the fictive dream. 

Now he's tackled the biggest offenders and shows you how to fix them. In 27 Fiction Writing Blunders you'll learn: 

* The biggest reason readers get stuck in your opening pages...and how to unstick them * How to avoid marshmallow dialogue * The simple solution for low stakes * The art of getting into and out of flashbacks * Getting rid of the kind of characters that readers never want to see in your novel * The biggest point-of-view gaffe and how to spot it * How to perform liposuction on flabby scenes * The best way to show what characters think and feel, and much more! 

Plus, Bell attacks some of the blunders writers can pull on their own careers, including fear, false competition, market ignorance, and the neglected brain. 

Don't let little mistakes keep you from big success. Eliminate these 27 blunders forever...and sell more books!


  1. Wow. This is great! Thanks so much for sharing your brainstorming process with us, Mr. Bell!

  2. Thanks for the great post!

  3. Amazing! I'm brainstorming my nest story so this'll be a huge help. Thanks Mr. Bell! I'm also reading Plot and Structure and it's helping me a lot.

  4. Timely & helpful information as I'm starting book 2 in my YA spec fic trilogy. Thank you!

  5. Thanks for sharing! It's always cool to see others' processes, especially since I'm still figuring out my own.

    Loved The Art of War for Writers, by the way, and several of the others are going on my Christmas list this year.

  6. Some good ideas. I have a bunch of scattered scenes for my novel, but I'm finally figuring out how they connect, which I'm very excited about! The notecard suggestion is very helpful.

  7. Cool process! I normally don't do much brainstorming before I write, just kind of come up with a one-paragraph idea and dive in, lol. When I get stuck, though, I'll often pause and just brainstorm for a while, or do something like the the notecard idea.
    Thanks for sharing your expertise! :D


  8. This is great. Shared and bookmarked, copied and utilized. :)