|The Myth, the Man, the Master|
James Scott Bell
No, I'm talking about being a snob over what I "already" know.
The thing is that if I learned something, if I have experience in the domain, if I feel that I've paid my dues and now I'm a bit of an expert, then I don't want to be treated like a novice. After all, I am an 'expert' now.
I've chronicled my challenge-paved path to writing before, but I think it's worth explaining again. For years (eight to be exact) I fiddled with a manuscript. On-again, off-again, but yes -- eight stinkin' years. And in the end, this manuscript was categorically bad.
It's sobering to admit something like this. But I have always been my best (or worst) critic. Of course, I didn't understand what made it stink. I just knew a bad smell when I sniffed it!
To the rescue: James Scott Bell's book on the craft -- Plot & Structure. I can't properly explain how much it helped me. As I read the pages, I became convinced that he wrote this for me. I had no quota and no goal. Every silly plot twist, flat character, and boring dialogue that you can think of, I was guilty of committing to paper. All of 'em!
So I dove into JSB's book. I like to believe that I became an expert on the material. And the result was that I completed the first draft of Aces in a matter of weeks. 8 years and I produced junk. 12 weeks and I had a complete novel. After I was done revising and editing, I started my second full-length novel, Rocky Peak. Same results.
Therefore I felt like I had it all down. I am the master. "I can probably teach that book," I thought very (very) quietly. Then I saw the posting of the "Seminar" by JSB. In LA, less than 10 miles from me.
Full Disclosure: I thought the seminar was for beginners. NOT me! I got this. I'm D man! What can he possibly team ME?
The reality is that I was struggling with the revisions phase for Rocky Peak. I felt like I was getting close, but something was missing. I couldn't put my finger on what exactly. This is where my snob-like mentality was my biggest obstacle. Once I got off my high-horse, I registered and in that act alone, things started to open up.
Last weekend, June 4th and 5th, I attended Jim's seminar "Novel & Screenplay Intensive." I walk in and there he is. Either he's very tall or I'm really short (okay, keep your opinions to yourself!). And this is when I knew I was in for a great weekend. Jim is a humble man. You would never know that he's a best selling novelist, a talented writer, and an expert teacher of the craft. Because he comes across as if he's still learning, but wants to share what he knows. In the business world -- in the domain of leadership -- we call this type of person a Level-5 leader (as explained in Good to Great by Jim Collins). Mr. Collins says Level-5 Leaders "...display an unusual mix of intense determination and profound humility." This statement personifies James Scott Bell.
A true expert isn't someone that hoards the knowledge, but one who willingly shares the knowledge for the overall improvement of the tribe (in our case, the writing community). And share he did. Some of us at the seminar joked that JSB is like Master Yoda. Although considerably taller, and less green!
One of the wonderful things about seminars is the people you meet. Yes, some were like me: working on getting their first novel published. But then there were others who had already published many novels. These are experts! They make a living writing novels. And they were at the seminar! Learning, taking feverish notes. No, you are never done learning and every novel you write will have its unique challenges. As a writer, I felt transformed and reinvigorated.
The seminar was filled with tools, techniques, and phenomenal examples from novels and movies. What he taught, sunk in. I mean really deep. I can't think of a technique or tool as a theoretical idea anymore. There are examples engrained within me. I do have a very long list of movies that I want to watch now, but that's a personal issue.
I hope that what he taught us will be released in his next craft book because there are nuggets of brilliance there. I don't want to give details about the seminar. So no real spoilers here (okay maybe one!).
At the end of day one, Jim showed us a tool that was worth the price of any seminar, book or on-line workshop he gives. He calls it the "12 Signpost Scenes."
If you've read his Plot & Structure book, or Art of War for Writers, or Revisions & Self-Editing, a lot of the "Scenes" will be familiar. But what he does here is he provides a framework for these critical scenes. The general flow, the main disturbances and "Doorways of No Return" and clearly articulated timeline.
Before you "purists" who write from the seat of your pants get all wound up, this is a simple exercise that helps you identify the big scenes, but just as important, you identify the big GAPS! That's it. You can stop there if you want. But oh, it gets better. I promise you.
I got home that first night and prepared my 3x5 cards for the "12 Signpost Scenes." And you know what? The problem that I faced with Rocky Peak suddenly became clear. There it was! I made that one correction, then the pieces magically started to fall into place. It was magic. It is magic. And Jim Scott Bell is a master magician of the craft.
I am a better writer as a result of this seminar. I have met other great writers. And I am in awe of JSB.
Now, if you don't mind, I have revisions to work on.
Fight the good fight!