Revisions from James Scott Bell

On Tuesday, the Writer’s Digest hosted a (free!) webinar featuring James Scott Bell, the renowned author of several writing books. In it, he talked about novel revision–the very thing I wanted to hear.
It was amazing.

I had been fretting on my supposed “break” about all these small details, questions like, “How will this character get from A to B?” and “What color highlighter should I use for character issues?” I had been thinking about mapping and index cards and working out the intricate structure in my book.

But James Scott Bell made me rethink all that.
He made me see the forest from the trees. He made me go to the roots of my story. Revisit character. Motivation. Theme. He plainly brought out the driving force behind the story; The Stakes.

I’ll share a little bit of his genius on what he defines as the stakes.
He defines it as the “death overhanging”. The stakes, he says, are based on three types of deaths; physical, professional, and psychological.

  • Physical
    • Literal and actual death; there is a danger that the character might get killed. (He gave the example of a mafia don)
  • Professional
    • Death of something you have built your life around, such as the position of a CEO, a millionaire, or even a role like a mother. There is a danger that the profession might crumble and the character will be left with nothing to support them.
  • Psychological
    • Death of spirit, or motivation. There is a danger that the opposition will crush the motivation and the character will be left with a broken spirit and lost motivation.

I feel like he defines the stakes beautifully. I used to think that the stakes was only the threat of a physical death. The character might get murdered, or killed, or end up in a hospital with a coma. But James brought out the two other deaths–making way for a multifaceted conflict.

Think of conflict as its own character. It cannot only be one-dimensional.  It has to have many sides, many faces, and many interpretations. It made me completely rethink my story. All its conflict was there; but James Scott Bell gave it all a name. I can then polish the stakes, and the story would flow much more smoothly and the tension would definitely increase.

And don’t forget; this is a two-way lane. There must be stakes for the protagonist, so there must also be equally high stakes for the antagonist. I want to be able to write the story from the antagonist’s point of view, and have it JUST as compelling as if it were told from the protagonist’s point of view.

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