ThrillerFest – Author James Scott Bell

Posted: July 22, 2015 in Writing
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More than just a bestselling author, James Scott Bell is an excellent writing teacher. He’s penned the infamous (if you’re a writer) bestselling book Plot and Structure.


I had the opportunity to catch James at the 10th annual ThrillerFest this year. His class was amazing. I took so many notes this year because the authors were just pouring out nuggets of writing gold. Reviewing my notebook showed I took three pages of notes for James’ 50 minute class.

James’ writing help is all over the internet. Just Google his name and you’ll find him on a myriad of writing/coaching sites. He’s also an electric speaker. A former trial lawyer, he’s in command of the room and does an unbelievable job of keeping everyone focused on the writing tips he’s teaching.


He talked about the three death types that work in thrillers:
Psychological – someone can be defeated mentally
Professional – someone’s career can be shattered
Physical – someone can be maimed or killed

As your hero and villain battle, they’ll typically be fighting over one of these. But not necessarily all three.

He talked about the “middle”. aka the “muddle”. This could/should be the “mirror moment”. The spot in the book where your hero figuratively (and sometimes literally) looks in the mirror and realizes they’ve changed and there’s no going back. It’s the big transformational moment. How will they, or will they change? And if not, what will happen to them?

James made some humorous references from movies where he moved the DVR right to the very middle of the movie and in some cases they actually had the hero look in the mirror for that moment! But the takeaway is that it’s a very common and useful device if done properly.

To add spice to the mix, make sure your main character has a moral flaw. Don’t make them always perfect. Perfect is not real and we can’t relate to someone unbelievable.

I can’t relay all that I’ve learned from James. A great deal of it was just making mental connections in my own writing head. But search for his name on the Internet. You’ll find he’s an amazing resource for writing help. (oh, and pick up one of his books. he’s an excellent writer – BTW)

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