Sucking The Wisdom Out Of James Scott Bell

For Christmas, I bought myself James Scott Bell’s book The Art of War for Writers, and I keep going back to it. I thought I’d share tip #30, which has stuck in my brain for a day or two, mostly because I wonder if I did it correctly in my newest novel.

Tip #30 says: “The key to reader bonding is falling in love with the lead.” It’s pretty basic. If my reader doesn’t love the protagonist, why would he/she/it want to know what happens next? What’s the motivation for turning the page? After all, there’s bound to be something decent on tv…

Bell offers four tips that should lead to readers loving the Lead. Get ready to take notes:

1. “Great Leads have grit, wit, and it.”  He either has guts, courage, and inner strength from the beginning of the story, or he develops them as the story progresses. He’s humorous. And he’s got sex appeal, an inner something that makes him attractive. 

Side note from me: sex appeal doesn’t have to mean he’s bedding every woman in sight. I hate it when I find a powerful character I love, then in chapter 3 he’s hooked woman #1, and in chapter 5 he’s with woman #2, then woman #3 steps in a bit later…  Men (and women) can be attractive, sexy, AND morally pure. I know lots of people would disagree with me on that one, but I admire a sexy protagonist who’s also faithful to his spouse.  Now I’ll hop off my soap box and get back to Bell’s stuff:

2. “Character is revealed in crisis.” The tests and trials of the story build up the protagonist and show the reader what he’s made of. 

Side note from me: it should be good stuff! No one likes a whiner.

3. “You should know your Lead’s deepest thoughts, yearnings, secrets, and fears.”  The author MUST know their character inside and out; know what said character will do in a crisis situation; know what he fears, what he loves, what he longs for, what he eats for lunch on Thursdays. If the author doesn’t know, how can she pass it on to the reader?

4. “Emotionally bond the reader to the Lead character.” Bell offers three tips for this one: 

A. “Make the Lead care about someone other than himself.”
B. “Have the Lead do things to help those weaker than he is.”
C. “Put the Lead in a situation of jeopardy, hardship, or vulnerability.”

I found this last tip to be the most helpful. If I do this early in the book (first five to ten pages), then I’m bound to have a character readers will love. (I wonder if I could do all three at once…)

Bell concludes Tip #30 by saying that, if you do these things, you’ll be “at least 75 percent of the way toward a novel readers won’t want to put down.” That’s where I want to be! 

For what it’s worth.

-Sonja

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