Bell’s Pyramid of Writing

I’ve been reading Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell and it is an excellent resource. Last week I was struck by all the different ways to generate plot ideas. So what do you do with all those ideas? You’ve got to narrow them down and the way to do it is with the Bell Pyramid.

There are three layers to the Bell Pyramid. We’ll start at the base and work to the top.

Passion: A novel takes a long time to write, so you must be passionate about the plot you choose to write about. Rejections abound in the publishing world and many times it is because the work presented is “cookie cutter” work. Writers will follow the crowd and write what is selling instead of writing the book in their heart. You must feel passion about your plot to sustain your writing through the lenth of time it takes to write it.

Potential: You have to consider the possible reach of your plot idea to an audience. The way to do that is to put yourself in the shoes of an invester. Would you want to invest thousands of dollars in a book about cleaning a fish? Hhhmmm. You don’t need to write to the largest possible audience, but you do need to focus on a specific audience and write a passionate story to that audience. You want to write romance? What kind? Historical, suspence, contemporary, etc… It is not a rule, but a guideline as you write what you are really passionate about.

Precision: You’ve found what your passionate about and think the potential is there for a readership following. Now you must trim away anything that is not in line with that potential. If you are writing for suspense, don’t get distracted from that focus. You don’t want anything to distract from the potential.

I thought these were very helpful as I am gathering up ideas and trying to figure out which one to write about.

How do you decide which idea is the one you run with?

22 responses to “Bell’s Pyramid of Writing”

  1. Oooh good post! LOL Everyone in the blogosphere is having great posts today.
    Honestly, I didn't know enough about writing with my first two books to really think through the ideas. They ended up vague and there was a ton of revisions to get them more precise.
    The third one I actually wrote the synopsis first and in many ways that really strengthened my focus on the plot.
    I've never heard of this pyramid before. Even though I already started a fourth novel, I hope to apply all this stuff I keep learning. πŸ™‚ And when I have new ideas, I guess I'll sift through them to see which has most the potential for conflict and originality.


  2. awesome post! I must admit though, that passion wins with me 100% After all if it is in my heart and I love it I am going to do my best to write the crap out of it and make that baby shine… you know what I mean:) That pyramid is great though. Worth thinking through.


  3. Wow. Great post. You do your homework well, my dear!

    I don't usually choose what to write about; it jumps up and down in my brain, shouting to be written!


  4. Awesome post Sherrinda!

    Revelant especially for me, this first novel is a complete passion. This is the story that God has called me to tell.

    This pyramid is a great tool to help me keep my focus. Hurry payday- I need to rush out and grab this book for sure!

    Thanks Sherrinda for sharing what you are learning.

    Blessings to you…


  5. This is so interesting! Thanks so much for sharing it!


  6. Oo I wrote about passion today as well. it indeed needs to come across the page or your work will be for not. Great post. great minds think alike πŸ˜‰


  7. I think that passion needs to be our foundation, but then we narrow it down through the brainstorming process! We can't write about something we're not passionate about, but we can pinpoint the best ideas within our passions.


  8. I agree that it has to have passion as the solid base of the pyramid to support and sustain what is yet to come.
    Potential is necessary because you will not be successful without analyzing your audience.
    Once you have written with these in mind you are ready to trim the excess. It reminds me of making home made pie crust and once you have put it in the pie pan, you find it is a bit large and needs to be trimmed for the most attractive, eye pleasing product. Yum. . . pie!
    Thanks for a good thought on plot!


  9. i think i've been out of the blogging world for a bit….but i love your new blog look! very nice!

    and i love bell's pyramid reminder. thanks!

    Where Romance Meets Therapy


  10. Good post! I think passion is so important. If you really care about what you're writing about, it makes it exciting and fun. It makes persistence easier and it makes you more willing to endeavor to follow through and reach your long-term goal. Not only that, it shows through what you're writing and a lot of times readers can see that!


  11. Jessica, think I'm going to do a synopsis first this time and maybe I can keep myself inline! lol I was a vague plotter/SOTP writer with my first ms, and struggled at times. So, a planner I will be!

    Tabitha, I think passion is most important. If we can weave a good story, then we can “make that baby shine”!

    Jeanette, I love that your ideas shout at you! I wish mine would more often. I've had a few just jump out at me and, strangely enough, they are the ones I am most passionate about!

    Tamika, this book is definitely worth purchasing! It is very straight forward and easy to read, with lots of examples.

    Beth, glad you enjoyed it! It helps me remember it better if I voice it on paper/blog. πŸ™‚

    T.Anne, I'm going to hop over to your blog and read what you have to say! I love it when things are reinforced by others!

    Jody, well said! Pinpoint the best ideas within the passion! I love it!

    Ava, you have the best analogies, girl! But you are making me hungry with this talk of pie!!! πŸ™‚

    Jeannie, I haven't had this layout very long…only about a couple of weeks. But I like it. Clean and cute…and no reminders of ketchup. lol

    Cindy, I can't imagine any writer writing without a passion for what they are writing. You spend way to long and invest way to much to write about something you don't care about!


  12. Ooo! Sherrinda, thanks for the Bell pyramid recap. I remember reading it in his book and really resonating with it. I need passion to be my guiding light. PRecision and potential are definitely good things to consider, but without passion, I just won't crank out the words. πŸ™‚


  13. Passion for the story gets me up at 5am to fit in a little writing when the house is quiet and before I have to go to work every day. Without passion, I'm not sure the story would get written for me.

    Great post, Sherrinda!


  14. I agree with everyone, passion is what keeps me writing. I write children's books, but both of my middle grade stories were based on family. One is from what happened in my grandparents early life and one on what I would have liked to have happened in my childhood days.


  15. Passion is most definitely the key for me. If I don't care enough to learn from my story, then I know I'd never stick with it long enough to write it. Great summary of Bell's pyramid!


  16. I tend to go with the story idea that gives me goosebumps and that won't get out of my head unless I write it. I guess that's passion. πŸ™‚


  17. Great post–I'm a fan of Plot & Structure. I know when I've come up with the right book as soon as the characters and their problems come to me. Sometimes the plot starts from something very simple, but it always seems to flesh itself out in my head befor I begin pre-writing. Again, I love the new blog look!


  18. Plot & Structure has been on my bookshelf for years, and the Bell Pyramid is one of the best pieces of writing advice I've ever read. I agree–passion is key. If there is no passion in the writer, there won't be any in the reader.

    Glad I found your blog, Sherrinda!


  19. Excellent post, got a bit of a surprise for you at my Transylvania blog.


  20. Katie, lol, very funny. A passion cranker. Passion is what helps crank out the words!

    Heather, 5 am!!!! Oh my! I get up at 5am, but I have to use it for a quiet time or else I don't get it done. I'm just too tired at night. I thought about gettin gup earlier, but…I'm a wimp.

    Janet, I imagine without passion, anything in life is lackluster! Oh wonderful you are writing from your life experiences!

    Eileen, oooo, you want to learn from your story! Wow. That never even crossed my mind!

    Erica, goosebumps? I don't know that any book has ever given my goosebumps! How incredibly wonderful!

    Jill, thanks (regarding the blog look!) I really like this one.

    Billy, I love the last line of your comment! With no passion from the writer, there is no passion in the reader. Awesome!

    Rebecca, thanks for the shout out on your blog! Way cool!


  21. Hi Sherrinda-
    I am going to check that book out! Do you think it will be helpful to we memoir writers?
    Thanks for sharing the resource with us.


  22. Hey Stephanie! I really don't know if it would be a good book for memoir writers or not. I haven't finished the book! πŸ™‚ I do think all craft book on writing can only help a writer. There are principles in writing that cross all genres. You still want to hook readers. You still want to keep the middles engaging, etc. So, I would say yes, Bell's book is definitely worth checking into.


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