Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Bell's Pyramid of Plot

I've been reading Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell and it is an excellent resource. Not only does he give you ways to ways to generate plot ideas. He shows you want to do with them. You've got to narrow them down and the way to do it is with the Bell Pyramid.

There are three layers to the Bell Pyramid. We'll start at the base and work to the top.

Passion: A novel takes a long time to write, so you must be passionate about the plot you choose to write about. Rejections abound in the publishing world and many times it is because the work presented is "cookie cutter" work. Writers will follow the crowd and write what is selling instead of writing the book in their heart. You must feel passion about your plot to sustain your writing through the lenth of time it takes to write it.

Potential: You have to consider the possible reach of your plot idea to an audience. The way to do that is to put yourself in the shoes of an invester. Would you want to invest thousands of dollars in a book about cleaning a fish? Hhhmmm. You don't need to write to the largest possible audience, but you do need to focus on a specific audience and write a passionate story to that audience. You want to write romance? What kind? Historical, suspence, contemporary, etc... It is not a rule, but a guideline as you write what you are really passionate about.

Precision: You've found what your passionate about and think the potential is there for a readership following. Now you must trim away anything that is not in line with that potential. If you are writing for suspense, don't get distracted from that focus. You don't want anything to distract from the potential.

How do you decide which idea is the one you run with?


Krista Phillips said...

Great post!

Well, I write contemporary romance, which has a decent following.

I like to add a wee bit of humor.

I like to weave a spiritual theme throughout without it being tacked on.

So in my plot ideas, I look for humor potential and spiritual theme. If there aren't those 2 things naturally coherant with the story, the idea is nixed.

From there, I take a dart and start writing. Many times it doesn't work, so I erase several times. I have a few plot ideas that are still in this stage, that I've kinda put aside as the passion isn't there.


Keli Gwyn said...

Thanks for your post, Sherrinda. James Scott Bell knows his stuff.

I recently had a conversation with my agent about my next story. She gave me wonderful advice, which is in keeping with JSB's first point (and which I'm paraphrasing): write a story you can put your heart into.

I took my agent's advice and am working on a bright shiny new idea, one I'm passionate about. As I conduct the research and plot the story, I'm keeping the other two points in mind. I want to produce a marketable story, one that moves along and doesn't grow slow because I've taken off on tangents.

Mary Vee Writer said...

Sherrinda this was delightfully helpful. Clear. Concise. To the point.
I haven't invested in this particular book of James, looks like I need to get it. Thanks.

Ralene said...

I tend to go with the idea that sticks in my head the longest. lol... For instance, I've had hundreds of ideas of the last year as I worked on my WIP. Some come to me and I jot them down, and then they disappear. Two or three have registered in my brain and I find myself wandering about them when I'm not thinking about my WIP. Still, there's only 1 or 2 that vie for attention on an almost constant basis. Now to pick between the two, that will be the real work. :)

Julia M. Reffner said...

I think the Passion is so true for me, if I'm not passionate about my subject its hard to keep on writing. I think doing the research helps me to be more passionate, because I love learning more about my subject and I feel the writing gets a bit better as I go along as a result.

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Krista, I love that you know your genre and what you want to focus on. Kinda like Mary Connealy knowing she likes humor and cowboys. She is branded! And you will be too! Oh...I finished my synopsis at about 10pm Sunday night. :) How did you do?

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Oh Keli, I love that you have found an idea that you can be passionate about! I know with your diligence, discipline, and determination, you will have another winner on your hands.

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Mary, many of James's books are a must-have for writers. He is very detailed oriented and gives great examples to follow.

Ralene, how cool that you have narrowed your plots down to two! Who knows...maybe you will end up using both of them at some point!

Julia, passion is such an important factor when we write. It takes so long to get a novel down on paper, so we need to love the story to keep us motivated! Good luck!