Know what you’re aiming at in your war

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In his new book The Art of War for Writers, James Scott Bell teaches us that a story’s premise must be supported by fresh, solid scenes. Bell, who’s also written suspense novels and the great Plot and Structure, reminds us of fundamentals: make your dialogue flow; cut or hide exposition (delay it if you can, eliminate what’s not working); flip the cliched situation (so a big-rig truck driver might be a woman.)

But in his scene summary, Bell reminds us that every scene needs to have a thing it is aimed at — a bull’s eye. It’s a moment or an exchange, he says.

A bull’s eye can be a few lines of dialogue that turn the action around or reveal something striking. It can be as subtle as a moment of realization, or explicit as a gunshot to the heart. Many times, it is found in the last paragraph or two.

In the Writer’s Workshop Tuesday sessions, we have an exercise where we’re given the last line of a piece of writing, then invited to write toward that line. Bell says that a scene that doesn’t have a bulls-eye should be cut or rewritten.

We bring away writings of 300-500 words from our Tuesday sessions, scenes or sections that might be a little off target in our first draft. That’s what rewriting is for.

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