Every time I hear of a new book on the craft of writing, I scope it out on Amazon and Barnes and Noble and check out what Writer’s Digest and the Writer have to say about it. Endorsement, reviews, and sneak peeks of the content either wet my whistle or leave me dry.
There are rare occasions where I will buy a book on the craft simply because of the author. I don’t need to scope it out, reviews and endorsements aren’t crucial.
James Scott Bell is one of those authors. I have been a fan of his fiction since the old days—those days before I became a writer. His books on the craft showed me he could not only write fiction, he could teach it so even I could understand it.
His book, Conflict & Suspense, carries on his tradition of writing about the craft comprehensively and revealing new nuggets of insight to improve my own writing.
For a novel to be satisfying, the reader must connect emotionally with the characters and with their story. Adding conflict and suspense increase the emotions, and raising the stakes over the course of the novel keeps the reader engaged.
And it doesn’t matter what genre you’re writing, the concept works. Mister Bell shows this through examples from books and movies.
The key concept for me in this book is “the stakes in an emotionally satisfying novel have to be death.” There are physical, professional, and psychological deaths. One or more need to be present.
Applying this concept took my understanding of my lead characters in my current work to deeper levels. My leads are now more complex because I learned what professional and psychological death meant to them, how it would manifest in their lives if they failed to achieve their story goals. The plot of the story became richer as I used this information to introduce elements and twists that forced my characters to face all three types of death.
Mister Bell takes us deep into the craft as he demonstrates how to believably introduce conflict and suspense in the beginning of your story, and how to develop them through such areas as inner conflict, dialogue, and setting. He provides tools and insights into putting it all together.
This is one of those books that needs to be on every writer’s books shelf.