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Writing Advice from the Bookshelf: James Scott Bell on Reading to Improve Our Writing (i.e., Critical Reading)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Excerpt from Revision and Self-Editing for Publication by James Scott Bell:


You can’t be a great fiction writer without reading. A lot. All kinds of novels. And poetry and nonfiction.

Each time you read a book, the flow and rhythm of the writing implants itself in your brain. When it’s good writing, when you respond to it, it goes in the good file. When it’s not-so-good writing, you’ll sense it and put it under bad.

You’ll learn about plot and story construction and character building. Your storehouse will fill up and be ready for you when you’re in need.

Be self-directed in your reading. In Plot & Structure, I explained a process for learning plot so you’ll begin to feel it in your marrow. Here’s a brief recap:

1. Get half a dozen novels of the type you want to write.

2. Read the first book for pleasure and think about it afterward. What did you like about it?

3. Now read the second book and take some time to think about it, too.

4. Read the next four books in the same fashion.

5. Now go back to book one and, on index cards, mark each scene. Number them, then give us the setting, what the scene is about, and what, if anything, makes you want to read on.

6. Repeat this drill for all of the books.

7. Beginning with any stack of cards, go through them quickly, remembering the book, giving yourself a movie in the mind.

8. Do the same with the other stacks of index cards.

What this exercise does is burn plot and structure into your mind. Keep those cards and review them periodically.

With some modification, you can do the same thing for any aspect of the fiction craft….

So read.

Work Cited:

Bell, James Scott. Revision and Self-Editing for Publication: Techniques for transforming your First Draft into a Novel (2nd ed.). Blue Ash, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 2012. 5–6. Print.

One Comment
  1. Thursday, August 27, 2015 7:33 am

    Thank you for the post. I read for enjoyment anyway so that’s not too hard!


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