Write Your Novel From the Middle by James Scott Bell

By Ekta R. Garg

May 1, 2014


Those of you who have followed my reading list know how much I loved Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell. When I found out through another writer’s blog that he had a new book planned, I didn’t hesitate. I bought it right away.

Normally when I read a book for The Workshop, I make notes along the way. But I didn’t do that with this book. I literally didn’t have time to make notes. But I really didn’t need to jot anything down either.

At a slim 84 pages, Bell has condensed a key component of writing into a succinct volume. You’d think 84 pages might lack a little bit of meat, but you’d have to read the book to understand the depth of Bell’s experience and his willingness to help writers. I didn’t need to make notes because he presents his one main idea to writers, gives some examples to back it up, and then leaves it up to the writer reader to do the work.

Simple, right? It is. And brilliant, really.

(Disclaimer: any mistakes in quotes are my own. Unless noted, all italics come from the original book.)

Bell builds his entire book on a single premise: the mirror moment.

“At any stage of your writing you can ask yourself what the Mirror Moment in your story might be. This is the most crucial thing to know, because this is what your story is really all about.”

He’s referring to the middle of the story you’re writing—literally. To test his theory before writing the book, he took several of his favorite books and opened them to the middle. He read the pages of the books in and immediately around their midpoints and found an amazing thing: the midpoint of the books formed the exact moment where the major change in story takes place.

“Once you know what the moment is, you can truly write from the middle. Because now you know what sort of transformation happens at the end…”

Give it a little thought, and it completely makes sense. Just decide what you want your story’s big moment to be—that moment, to complete the analogy, when your protagonist looks in the figurative (or literal, if you like) mirror and realizes what the whole journey finally means—and after deciding on that moment, plan your book around it. Or, if you’re a pantser, write around it and see how the story unfolds.

In true form, however, Bell gives writers instruction on how to accomplish the before and after of the mirror moment. He talks about building the pre-story psychology of the characters and then also what he calls the “transformative visual.”

“Transformation is about change, and change needs to be proven. Change does involve an inner realization. But then, to prove itself, it must work outward in a visual form.”

The most interesting aspect of the book comes in the fact that Bell acknowledges plotters, pantsers, and in-between writers. That is, he uses his techniques to teach writers who love to outline the minutia of their stories, those who don’t plan a single word until they start typing, and those who do a combination. Despite what people in each of these groups might think, they can all use Bell’s techniques and he shows each group how to do it well.

I loved this book and know I’ll go back to it again and again. The singular concept might appear simple on the surface, but its depth will certainly provide readers with the tools needed to write a story full of impact. I’ve already bought Bell’s book on self-editing and can’t wait to jump into it.

I highly recommend Bell’s Write Your Novel From the Middle for all writers no matter how much experience you have or how far you’ve gotten in your story. It’s definitely a keeper and worth re-reading.

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