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How to Make the Best Use of James Scott Bell’s Writing Blunders Solutions Even If You Can’t Do Them All

27 Fiction Writing Blunders and How Not to Make Them

Every writer wants to avoid writing blunders. James Bell is my go-to guy when I start writing fiction. His activities inspire me. Twenty-Seven Fiction Writing Blunders is one book I keep coming back to, but I’m not going to list all twenty-seven writing blunders for you, so you don’t have to read the book. It may take you months to read this short book, but let me sneak in a few of my favorite ideas from it.

The reason it takes months to read such a short, fast book is that you have to try the ideas as you go. Then you get sidetracked by writing and forget to read the rest of the book. The good news is that it’s ok to get distracted if you’re writing. Here is what I do to keep Bell’s ideas in my face.

Writing Blunders

List Your Favorite Writing Blunders in the Header of Your Project

It’s ok to change the writing blunders list once you feel you’ve developed good habits, but instead, I find I keep adding to it.

Here’s the checklist in the header of my book Girls on Fire that sprang from James Bell’s advice from one book or another. I recommend all of his books.

  1. Does narrative reflect the character’s inner life – what she thinks, not just what is?
  2. Make sure all characters have an attitude and an agenda. – Having an attitude and agenda is huge! They all have to be a little snarky about their agenda because of tips number three, eight, and ten. You won’t know how to distress your character if he or she doesn’t have an agenda.
  3. Does dialogue forward the character’s agenda?
  4. Dialogue gets bogged down with needless words – so, listen, really
  5. Dialogue should NOT say what both characters already know. This is a relatively easy fix! Or is it?
  6. Check your opening pages for the use of the word had and its derivatives. In first 10 pages – 3 sentences backstory, 2nd 10 pages – 3 paragraphs backstory
  7. Always check your pop culture references to make sure they’re not too dated.
  8. Tension every 100 words (about eight lines) Dialogue works best for creating tension, but Bell insists it can be in the narrative as well.
  9. Is there a story developing? What’s the plot? Structure. Maybe you don’t ramble or change your plot, but I’m struggling with this.
  10. Write to distress your characters. This is extremely hard for me. I want to be kind to the ones I like. You can see this is popular in movies now.
  11. Use Italics sparingly for short internal thoughts. How do you show the character’s inner thoughts? I love Modern Family because they take time to do this regularly with each of the main characters. 
  12. Create a strong bond with the character and an opening disturbance. Imminent danger, Hardship – without whining, Underdog, Likability – has self-deprecating humor and guts, is a dreamer and yet persevering. It is OK to start your character as a wimp, but get them in a fighting spirit. Reject the apparent character as the minors. Instead choose someone who is the opposite sex, skin color, hair color, fingernail color.

Use Bell’s Activities As Journal Writes

Like my blogging, my fiction writing has become an experimental hobby. As I learn, I rewrite. It’s been five years, and I’m still working on this little book. Simple activities may change your life or the life of your characters. These two activities from the book were fun and may have improved my book immensely – or not. At any rate, they were great journal writes.

Pick a Word Randomly Out of the Dictionary

Weave it into a story. This activity was fun. I had to do a little research along with the dictionary. It turns out it fits well. It turned out that I might be able to use this story. Yummy. At any rate, it turned into a chapter.

Word: caber – Scottish pole or beam especially one thrown as a trial of strength a roughly trimmed tree trunk used in the Scottish Highland sport of tossing the caber. This sport involves holding the caber upright and running forward to toss it so that it lands on the opposite end. It so happened that one of my characters is of Scottish descent, so this worked out beautifully. Doing a little more research brought the word to life. Also, it was nice to know that some Scottish guys do wear underwear. I bet this one was glad he did!

writing blunders
Caber toss guy

Choose a News Article

Weave it into the story. Wow, I never expected this to make a difference, but it changed the beginning of the book and gave my character a focus, a chance to shine and a whole bunch of attitude. Practicing the activity in a journal write and not writing the chapter directly into the book freed me. I knew I didn’t have to use this story in my book, but it was interesting to write. Again, I ended up doing a bit more research because I was curious after I read the headlined article.

The story is about an Ohio woman who drew celebrity support for her claims of innocence in the slaying of a teenage girl has been released after 22 years in prison.

WHIO-TV reports Tyra Patterson, now 42, was freed Monday, Christmas Day.

Patterson was convicted in the 1994 murder and robbery of 15-year-old Michelle Lai. She was one of five people charged with killing Lai and robbing her sister and three other girls.

Patterson did not fire the shot that killed Lai, but under Ohio law accomplices can get the same punishment as killers. 

My thought was what if this had happened in my character’s school? As a psychologist, what would she have done?

My husband’s comment, “Wow, that’s a totally different start. I didn’t even recognize it! It’s like a murder mystery now.” The goal of Girls on Fire is the same, but now my character has some real-life clients. Thanks, James!

My Expert Advice: Read all of James Scott Bell’s Books.

You can’t go wrong choosing any of Bell’s books. Every one of James Bell’s books I’ve read is a five-star book in my opinion. Who is your go-to author for writing tips?

5 replies »

  1. I’ve seen the caber toss in action…and thankfully, it is nice to know there is indeed underwear beneath the kilt! Great post Marsha. Trying to read as I can, via FB…but wanted to comment here to let you know I’m still around, just! Have a lovely weekend 🙂


  2. A great post, Marsha. James Bell’s book appears to have helped you. I like his suggestions. I vaguely remember the story of Tyra Patterson, it was a long time ago. How did you come across the article?





Hi, I'm Marsha Ingrao, a retired educator and wife of a retired realtor. My all-consuming hobby is blogging and it has changed my life. My friends live all over the world. In November 2020, we sold everything and retired to the mile-high desert of Prescott, AZ. We live less than five miles from the Granite Dells, four lakes, and hundreds of trails with our dog, Kalev, and two cats, Moji and Nutter Butter. Vince's sister came with us and lives close by. Every day is a new adventure.

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