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Conflict and Suspense

(Elements of Fiction Writing)

4.27  ·  Rating details ·  801 ratings  ·  115 reviews

Conflict pulls readers into a story and suspense carries them along until its conclusion. Expert author of over 15 thrillers, James Scott Bell offers proven techniques that help writers craft fiction that their readers won?t be able to put down. Learn how to believably weave conflict and suspense into a story, how to pace your story and keep the pressure on throughout, and

Paperback, 265 pages
Published January 12th 2012 by Writer's Digest Books (first published December 15th 2011)
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Oct 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Another one for the keeper shelf from JSB. It includes some of the same concepts as Plot & Structure and Revision & Self-Editing (like the LOCK system and the character grid), but puts them in the context of increasing suspense and intensifying conflict. If you're trying to diagnose or avoid pacing problems in your novel, there are a lot of excellent considerations here. ...more
Aug 10, 2016 added it
Shelves: writing
This book is just GREAT!
Easy to read, loads of samples, straight to the point...
You'll get lots of practical advice for what you are looking for if you want to improve your current draft.
Lee Thompson
Jan 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anybody interested in becoming a professional writer
Well worth your time and money if you want to improve as a writer. I just stole this from the book (because I agree with it completely) "Getting the words down is what makes a disciplined writer. Getting them down with the craft working for you is what makes a professional writer."

Highly recommended.
Lee Dunning
Aug 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I picked this book up on a whim. I just signed up for the 30-day free trial of Amazon's new Kindle Unlimited, and I snagged a bunch of books that had been languishing on my wish list, and this was one of the ten that made it from my list to my Kindle.

So, first of all, confession time. I added the book to my wish list based on the cover and a misunderstanding of the title. The cover shows a couple of chaps slashing at one another in a fencing display. The title also uses the word "conflict" and m
Vicki Hopkins
Mar 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic book. I love writing conflict into my stories. Frankly, it's the spice that keeps them going like the Energizer Bunny. People accuse me of torturing my characters, and this books gives me affirmation I'm doing it right.

James Scott Bell tells it like it is, with humor and great examples. It's nice to know when I get to my cliffhanger in my current novel, it's okay to hang my antagonist over the edge and drag my reader with him.

If you're a published author or aspiring writer, this is a
Sep 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing
As with nearly every James Scott Bell writing book I’ve read, this one was excellent! On topic, with relevant examples from well-known books and movies, clear explanations and actionable items. Personally, I found that many of the suggestions were things I’d already discovered through trial and error, but there were new ideas I hadn’t considered yet. Great for beginner writers, but also a useful refresher/checklist for more experienced writers.
Feb 01, 2021 rated it really liked it
I didn't read the chapters to this book in order, because some of it was familiar to me from John Truby's "Anatomy of a Story." However, the book provided tips I hadn't heard previously and outlined exactly how to maximize suspense in every moment of each scene. The advice I have implemented so far has made the difference between proof readers and readers saying 'this is great' to 'this is amazing'. It has also made writing slightly more challenging and fun - I feel like I have a puzzle and I ne ...more
Jan 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
I took a quick break from my reading and other jobs to zip through this little book, and I'm so glad I did. I'm mostly self-taught in writing and plotting, and I do recommend the approach I took--learning by observance of plots you like--but this filled in the gaps I had and gave me a simpler understanding of the process.

My only criticism of this enormously helpful book (which I am so looking forward to putting into practice) is that while some of the author's advice would apply to any writer in
G.M. Burrow
Apr 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing
Chockfull of brilliant pointers. What struck me as I kept reading advice like "Ramp up the tension!" "Tighten it some more!" "Make bad things happen!" "Make worse things happen!" "Make your hero work harder!"--is how much more we'd enjoy our roles in God's story if we remembered that our best writing advice comes from observing the conflict and suspense in the best story ever told--this one. Ours. ...more
Jan 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: on-writing
I recommend reading Conflict & Suspense by James Scott Bell if you have finished a first draft and are ready to take the story you've written to the next level. We all know that conflict makes a compelling story, but how do you ensure you have enough? Or that the the conflict you do have was executed correctly?
This book will explain what you tried to do, how you did it wrong, & what you can do to make it right. It'll also explain what you did right, but how you can still make it better.
Oct 31, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: on-writing
Every book about writing that I've read gives me something; inspiration, direction, focus, or just the urge to sit down and write. So I'm tempted to give this 4 stars, but the annoyance of constant typos and missing words or letters is enough to drive that back down. I enjoyed this book, and it did give me some good ideas, although it is a bit smug and self-satisfied. ...more
Melissa Mahle
Nov 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-on-writing
I tend not to read a lot of craft books, except if I am having a problem in a story. I recently read Bell's book because my latest action/espionage plot seems to just plod along. I needed to up the stakes and hit the gas in the pacing. Bell provides an excellent technical review on structure in relationship to conflict. I highly recommend it. ...more
Nov 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
If there's anything an author should know about creating conflict and suspense in their stories that isn't in this book, I'll be shocked. It's extremely thorough. It's also geared to be very helpful, with many clear steps to adding and increasing the tension in your writing. I plan to go through this book page by page and try everything when I'm ready to revise.

Highly recommended.
Jennifer Harper
Apr 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
For a writer trying to hone my craft I found this book practical and insightful. Most of the stuff I knew, but it helps to have the information refreshed. This book is written in an engaging, optimistic style. A must read.
Deborah Biancotti
Marvellous, comprehensive, practical exploration of exactly what the title denotes: conflict AND suspense.
Gregory Frost
Aug 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Do not write your thriller/genre novel until you have read what James Scott Bell has to say. An essential "how to" book for the library.
Mar 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing
This is an exceptional book for writers, covering conflict and suspense fully, but with so much more thrown in.
Rebecca Rosenberg
May 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing-craft
James Scott Bell writes great craft books for writers of fiction. If there is one tool a writer needs in their tool box, it's CONFLICT. This is a great book for clear examples and how-to. ...more
Carrie Daws
Sep 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing
So, admittedly, a lot of what he shares is available from other sources online free of charge. But, the convenience of having it all neatly together in one place, complete with quality examples from books and movies that demonstrate his point is worth the cost of the book. Mr. Bell did a great job of breaking down building conflict and suspense into fiction well, from the beginning foundational work of picking a location and creating characters to the final clean up work when the rough draft is ...more
Tony Blenman
Apr 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is the first book I have read by this author and it was quite engaging. The contents were true to the title of the book. I liked how Bell used LOCK to integrate his teachings and examples. In reviewing some works of other authors, Bell was clever in highlighting confrontations of the characters, then carrying readers to the brink to create suspense, leaving them hanging by suggesting readers to pick the respective book to find out what happened. Bell emphasizes that characters should experi ...more
Joy Pixley
Sep 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Another knockout craft book from James Scott Bell. He dives in deep to describe why and how to incorporate more conflict and suspense into every facet of the story, offering plenty of examples and ideas. This book helped me realize why certain arcs and scenes in my stories are falling flat or seeming slow -- especially in dialogue -- and gave clear directions for improvement. Highly recommended!
Max Mulholland
Feb 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
An outstanding presentation of conflict and suspense. Mr. Bell details every aspect of the craft as it relates to this subject matter. An excellent learning tool complete with suggestions for creative prompts and exercises for revision. Bell does a complete break down and then a total build up of every element of creating suspense. Useful for all genres and all levels of writers. I'll be keeping this on my shelf and be referring it to it often. ...more
Aug 23, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: books-on-writing
Haven't quite finished this. Not sure want to. Mostly obvious, tired advice by an author who touts his own lackluster writing. So far 2 or 3 things have seemed interesting/useful. Certainly not worth my time or money. Maybe if I finish and the second half is amazing, I'll update the review. Otherwise I don't plan to read any more by this author. Craft or fiction. ...more
Gwyn Haller
May 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
No trouble giving this book 5/5 stars

James Bell's Plot and Structure was one of the first books paper books I purchased "full price" off a book store shelf. That was a long time ago, and that book was borrowed and is still a prodigal son. CONFLICT and SUSPENSE with Plot and Structure "steak and potatoes"? Bravo! James Scott Bell.
Jen Grogan
Aug 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: editing-books
Conflict has always been one of my weaker spots as a writer, and I've seen in some of my editing jobs that it's often tough for others as well. I thought this was a good primer on how to work on that issue. Lots of concrete suggestions and exercises, good examples, generally very good advice. ...more
Nov 30, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Said a bunch of things that I probably needed to hear. Plotting is my weakest area, and I'm pretty balls at conflict. I took everything with a grain of salt and I could probably use a reread of this, but overall I liked it. ...more
Philip Dampier
Feb 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
I like everything I've read by James Scott Bell but he does repeat things from one book to another. That's okay as repetition is a great teacher. Since I write books with conflict and hopefully suspense I found the book not only interesting but helpful. ...more
Jul 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Solid, if at times a little more basic than I was expecting. However, it really, really helped me overcome some trouble/writer's block I've been having with my current wip. Sometimes just hearing advice you sort of already know--just phrased a different way--can make all the difference. ...more
Lavinia Thompson
Jan 11, 2021 rated it it was amazing
A fellow writer friend recommended this book to me and I am so glad I took the tike to read it! There are so many tools for writers in this book. The author breaks down how to utilize conflict and suspense and how to integrate it into a well-crafted story. A must read for any author.
Michael Cruz
Dec 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: on-writing
I learned more by reading this book in an hour compared to a semester's worth of Creative Writing courses I took in High School and in University. ...more
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Jim is a former trial lawyer who now writes and speaks full time. He is the bestselling author of Try Dying, No Legal Grounds, Presumed Guilty, Glimpses of Paradise, Breach of Promise and several other thrillers. He is a winner of the Christy Award for Excellence in Inspirational Fiction, and was a fiction columnist for Writers Digest magazine. He has written two books in the Writers' Digest serie ...more

Other books in the series

Elements of Fiction Writing (1 - 10 of 11 books)
  • Beginnings, Middles & Ends (Elements of Fiction Writing)
  • Characters and Viewpoint (Elements of Fiction Writing)
  • Conflict, Action and Suspense (Elements of Fiction Writing)
  • Description
  • Dialogue (Elements of Fiction Writing)
  • Manuscript Submission
  • Plot
  • Scene & Structure (Elements of Fiction Writing)
  • Setting: How to Create and Sustain a Sharp Sense of Time and Place in Your Fiction
  • Voice and Style

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