How to Write Best-Selling Fiction

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Deep yet practical I love this course. An amazing professor (I already loved his books) and a lot of wisdom packed into a very accessible format.
Date published: 2020-06-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent presentation and content. James Scott Bell knocked it out of the park. I do not write fiction thrillers, but that didn't matter. I gained a wealth of information and encouragement from the course.
Date published: 2020-06-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from How-To tainted with Encouragement This course was a gift to myself for the big five-o. I do not want a return. Bell's teaching style is engaging, informative, and entertaining.
Date published: 2020-06-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Information and Examples I prefer to listen to my Great Courses and this is a really good one to just listen to. I listen during my daily walk and it has really gotten my ideas flowing on how to be a better writer. I'm not interested in writing "the great American novel". I am simply interested in writing a book that someone other than my mother will buy. This course by Prof Bell gives me hope that I can do just that. He provides straight forward advice and easy to do exercises that help you apply what he is talking about to your specific project. He makes you feel like you can write your book. He is very encouraging. One of my favorites.
Date published: 2020-06-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What a great course! The instructor is easy to listen to and understand, and the topics are exactly what a fiction writer like myself wants to learn. I am enjoying this course very much.
Date published: 2020-05-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Even I can learn. I have written non- fiction, now I hope this will help me write a great fiction
Date published: 2020-05-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Absolutely fantastic This course is crammed with great information--have your notebook ready, or just watch it multiple times. It's that good. All the lectures are interesting and each one inspires me to write. Can't recommend this enough for writers!
Date published: 2020-05-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Effective learning tools for any style of writing. I've been taking writing courses for the last 5 years, and this course was by far one of the most informative. There are 24 lectures, all worth listening to, even if you'd covered the topic in other writing courses. I really liked James Scott Bell's perspective on writing a best seller, and the tools he offers the students. I especially appreciated his take on making the character jump off the page, as this is something I struggle with.
Date published: 2020-05-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This course has been very helpful for my writing since I am a new writer. It explains the fundamentals that are required in writing a novel. I like that Mr. Bell gives lots of examples. I ordered the DVD, and the guidebook that came with it is very handy.
Date published: 2020-04-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Comprehensive and engaging This course is a rich source of information for any aspiring fiction writer. I've taken other courses and read books on writing fiction, but none as informative and practical as this one. As well as entertaining. I was sorry to reach the end.
Date published: 2020-04-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Inspiring! James Scott Bell's courses offers inspiring lessons on writing your book and keeping your readers turning the pages!
Date published: 2020-03-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Easy to Absorb I didn't have high expectations for this series. Previous efforts have not hit the mark. However, I know good instructors can make a difference. William Zinsser's book, 'On Writing Well' got my article writing career started, so I know it is possible to learn from other writers and from workshops. So, one more try, I thought. Here is the reality - James Bell’s classes do not deal with clues, or rules. He offers road marks to keep you on the path that is known to lead to success. His statements are signs to follow as you travel that path. He teaches you the things a career in writing has shown him, but he also brings many examples from other writers as well. He makes it easy to stay on target, and to keep moving forward. His classes are well designed to be used as an audio only course, as well as viewed as a TV program. While I own the video version, I took it as an audio lecture, and only needed to check a graphic once or twice. But I can also see that visual learners will appreciate the graphic lists he provides. He also presents the overall course with an eye toward lectures being usable as standalone lessons. I found I could drop in and out of lectures based on my interest and needs, and still absorb the message with no difficulty. Better yet, they offer such solid advice the ideas become part of your methods - much like Zinsser did years ago. I cannot offer higher praise than that. Well done, Professor Bell.
Date published: 2020-01-10
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Unknown- never received I bought this item 3 weeks ago with 2 day shipping. It never arrived. It looks like a great video. Too bad I have yet to hear back from Customer support.
Date published: 2020-01-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Informative! This course contains lots of tips and tricks to help you with your writing. Professor Bell is a great speaker who really knows the ins and outs of the business. He cites many examples about plot lines, dialogue, etc. Be aware though, most of his examples rely heavily on the detective/ thriller/ mystery genres, as this is what he is most familiar with. I really enjoyed this course!
Date published: 2020-01-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Gives a lot of knowledge It's very good, helps you understand, and it goes to what you need to find your ideas to write the story in your own style.
Date published: 2019-12-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So Far So Good Taking my time working through this course and so far it has been great. Good information and very understandable. Educational and motivating. A little distracting when the instructor is speaking without looking at the camera but its minor. Overall so far its a great course
Date published: 2019-12-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Only a hundred times better! A thousand times better than anything online, but sadly only a hundred times better than everything else. By the way, I would not recommend this course to anyone—I don’t want my competitors to have it.
Date published: 2019-12-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Just what I was looking for. I enjoyed the clear analysis and comprehensive approach. The silly graphic of a hand writing in each lesson is mild irritant to me, but does not subtract from overall excellent delivery. The speaker is a very good dramatic performer, aided by perfect camera angles, to demonstrate how dialogue can be written. Helpful tips for any writer.
Date published: 2019-12-16
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good content but shipping is expensive The content of the courses is generally good and worth the purchase price. However, the company’s advertising is somewhat deceptive in that they never mention the fairly expensive shipping charges in their price listings.
Date published: 2019-10-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from THE course on writing commercially viable fiction. Get this course. Now. At any price. I've read and listened to a dozen books on how to write fiction (and screenplays). Those tell you how to write proper fiction and that's fine. This course takes the concept further and tells you how to write fiction that has an excellent chance of being commercially successful. No joke. It's like a highly condensed version of all those other books, but it also contains all the sage wisdom of an author who has fought his way up the ladder of success. He quite literally gives away the keys to the kingdom with all of his real world examples.I wish I'd had this course when I was starting out because it would've saved me a ton of wasted time and frustration. I'll just say it - if you only buy one course, it has to be this one. I'd already published a series of books that sold very well and now, listening to this course, it managed to blow me away with both "Aha!" moments and cringe (at my own writing mistakes) moments where I realized issues that I'd messed up. Thankfully, I'm correcting them now. Here's just one example: Listen to what JS Bell says about point of view or "head hopping". He is spot on. If you get that wrong, readers will happily tear into your book in reviews. NOTE: Although I bought the video version of this course, I actually listened to most of it like an audiobook during my commuting. Make sure you download the courses ahead of time via WiFi because the Great Courses App itself tends to be a streaming data hog (regardless of which course you are streaming).
Date published: 2019-10-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good Content The title is a real grabber. How could a lecture live up to that kind of promise? I think this one does. James Scott Bell is clear, gives good advice, and breaks down the task of writing a novel into more manageable chunks. He uses good examples from popular fiction. I like his manner: he's relaxed, clear, and practical with his advice.
Date published: 2019-08-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Explanatory title As usual you ask for a review far too early. In the time I've had the course I have watched a quarter of it and I intend to give it time and thought, So far James Scott Bell has made me think because he uses unusual descriptors for his points - for example the idea of going through a door or the Mirror Moment. I like Bell's sensible approach and lack of obfuscating fluff and I appreciate the Guidebook that came with it. As usual, I am a happy camper.
Date published: 2019-08-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Perfect for the Serious Writer This is one of the absolutely best things I have ever done for my dream to write fiction. James Scott Bell lays out the basics simply with lots of examples to illustrate his points as well as visuals for such things as plotting your 3 act structure. It's like attending lectures from a writer who knows what he's talking about because he has done it over and over and he has gleaned gems of instruction from other masters as well. His exercises alone are worth the price of the course. He has wonderful recommendations for further study -- which is so helpful because there are a ton of how-to books out there but I would rather be guided by someone who has read them all. I am so happy I took this course and have the transcript to refer to. It has become my "bible" for writing. Thank you, Mr. Bell for your concise and specific insights into everything from dialogue to plot to characters to publishing. The Great Courses did us all a favor in presenting this course from Mr. Bell.
Date published: 2019-08-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from How to write bestselling fiction This course will definitely put me beyond my struggles as a begining fiction writer.
Date published: 2019-08-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course As with all the courses I've purchased from The Great Courses, this one is packed with information delivered in an easy-to-understand manner.
Date published: 2019-07-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from How to write best-selling fiction I have taken six other writing courses prior to this one. The course by Bell is by far the best. His teaching on the use of voice and style have been ever so helpful in my doing a final draft of my current book. My editor was amazed at how much more alive my writing has become, due to thei course. A must for any writer!
Date published: 2019-07-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The One Course That Every Writer Needs This is an excellent course with all of the information that writer's need. James Scott Bell is a great instructor who presents important information and tips that will truly help you become the best writer you can be. His style and encouragement are much needed to writers, whether you're just starting out, or preparing to write your 12th novel as I am. Yes, this information is available elsewhere, but here you have it all together in one place for easy reference. The examples are wonderful guides to help you learn how to write better as well. All in all, it's one of the best courses here. My only complaint is that I don't understand why it's in video only, as audio is sufficient for this course and the video really isn't necessary to get maximum impact for the course.
Date published: 2019-07-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Quite an Enjoyable Course If you have any aspirations at all to writing a novel, Professor Bell's Great Course "How to Write Best-Selling Fiction" is money well spent. Even if I never write the first word, this course has been my favorite Great Course to date. I relished the evenings I could make a martini and relax while enjoying one of his lectures. Each and every one has been a joy of revelations! I own several books on novel writing, however this is the first time I've felt truly connected to someone that clearly portrays the lay of the land, what it takes, and how to do it! Thank you Mr. Bell for providing such an excellent and enjoyable course!
Date published: 2019-07-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Inspirational speaker! He brought up great pointers and topics I haven’t thought of before. It obviously came with experience and wisdom. This video and the other one taught by James Hynes; both are essentials when learning and starting your writing projects.
Date published: 2019-06-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This Collection of Lectures is Truly High-Value Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned author, James Scott Bell has guidelines and techniques that can take you where you want to go with your writing. I am a published Crime Fiction author working on the fifth novel in my series. I still spend as much of my time on polishing craft as I do on writing. I already owned most of JSB's books on writing before I bought this video collection. You can't learn it all, but James Scott Bell will help you improve your craft and the quality of your writing faster than just about any other way. He is a great teacher. Your writing will reward you.
Date published: 2019-06-14
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How to Write Best-Selling Fiction
Course Trailer
Tell Me a Story
1: Tell Me a Story

Mr. Bell introduces you to the seven critical success factors of fiction and shows you how best-selling writers put them into practice. He explores literary genres through the success of best sellers written by authors such as Harper Lee and Gillian Flynn. He then challenges you to see if you have what it takes to be a best-selling author, as he outlines the 10 characteristics that a serious writer must possess. Discover why he surprisingly counts talent among the least important of the traits.

31 min
Anatomy of a Best Seller
2: Anatomy of a Best Seller

What is a novel? Looking at examples from writers including John Grisham, Michael Connelly, George Pelecanos, J. D. Salinger, Suzanne Collins, Thomas Harris, and more, Mr. Bell analyzes first what makes a novel, and then, what makes a novel successful. He also provides his own insights by looking at the role luck plays in creating a best seller. Learn how you first must “master the pyramid” before you can “try your luck on the wheel of fortune.”

28 min
Developing Ideas
3: Developing Ideas

Jump-start your creativity with a selection of fun exercises, including “What-If Moments” and “The First-Line Game.” Mr. Bell cites best-selling authors such as Alice Sebold and Mickey Spillane to demonstrate the importance of creating unique elements: a twist, a character, a setting, a relationship. Find out how to create the ever-important elevator pitch.

30 min
The LOCK System: A Foundation for Your Novel
4: The LOCK System: A Foundation for Your Novel

Using a proprietary system of his own invention, Mr. Bell introduces you to the foundational principles of a successful novel: LOCK (Lead, Objective, Confrontation, Knockout). He’ll demonstrate how famous authors such as Stephen King, David Baldacci, John Grisham, Theodore Dreiser, Michael Connelly, and others utilize these fundamental elements. Review the five types of endings and discover the pros and cons of each.

31 min
Structuring Your Novel
5: Structuring Your Novel

Learn why stories need—and love—structure. By rethinking a structure as a recipe, you realize you can still be original and creative within the template that works for best sellers. Dive into the writing styles of “pantsers” versus “plotters” and get a better understanding of whether you want to aim for a plot-driven or a character-driven story. And using the writings of John Grisham, Ernest Hemingway, James Patterson, Stephen King, E. L. Doctorow, Lee Child, and others, evaluate the traditional mythical structure of a three-act story.

31 min
Act I: The Disturbance
6: Act I: The Disturbance

See how James M. Cain, Harlan Coben, Anne Lamott, Ken Follett, James Clavell, and Dean Koontz often use a jolt or disturbance in the first few pages, if not the very first sentence, to hook a reader in, and how that often contributes to the book becoming a best seller. Look at other elements that you will need to include in the first act that will build up the character bonding and tension, which will keep readers riveted. Mr. Bell reveals an easy-to-use visual map that will help you plot out the most important elements for each act.

33 min
Act II: The Arena of Conflict
7: Act II: The Arena of Conflict

Building out Act Two means creating an “arena of conflict”—this is where your lead realizes he or she needs to overcome a challenge. Mr. Bell introduces you to the concept of a “mirror moment” and provides examples of authors who have demonstrated this technique, such as Margaret Mitchell, Suzanne Collins, Mario Puzo, Harper Lee, Thomas Harris, and Dashiell Hammett. Uncover three other elements that make a great second act and get introduced to the four options which will get your character to the final battle.

30 min
Act III and Resolution
8: Act III and Resolution

Mickey Spillane noted, “The first chapter sells the book. The last chapter sells the next book.” Mr. Bell has already provided the tools to get your reader hooked with the first chapter—and potentially the first line! Now, he provides the five strategies that will help you end your book in a way that gets your reader craving your next title.

31 min
Jump-off-the-Page Characters
9: Jump-off-the-Page Characters

Now that you know the secrets of a page-turning plot, Mr. Bell opens the toolbox for creating characters. Learn how to use unpredictability so your readers don’t get bored with cliché characters or trite traits. Calling on the practices used by best-selling writers including Michael Connelly, Richard Stark, David Morrell, Harper Lee, Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Lee Child, and Janet Evanovich, you’ll see how to develop flaws and baggage to make your characters relatable and human. Plus, get hints about building secondary characters, villains, and what it takes to keep a character interesting through an ongoing series.

33 min
Bringing Characters to Life
10: Bringing Characters to Life

Mr. Bell reveals two ways to bring your characters to life, along with a myriad of techniques you can put into practice, including a list of questions to “ask” your character, a timeline, a voice journal, a simple relationship grid, and the areas you should plan to research. Study famous characters developed by Marcel Proust, Lawrence Block, Jim Butcher, Walter Mosley, Robert Crais, James Lee Burke, Michael Connelly, Joyce Carol Oates, and more to reveal the techniques the best sellers use. Learn how minor details such as patterns of speech, dress, physical appearance, mannerisms, tics, eccentricities, and even names can have a major impact.

31 min
Point of View
11: Point of View

What does your point of view provide? The most important component of a point of view is that it establishes intimacy between a reader and a character. Dive into the concepts of point of view including: first person, omniscient, second person, and third person (limited and open). Study how Henry Fielding, Charles Dickens, Mario Puzo, James Clavell, J. D. Salinger, Raymond Chandler, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John D. MacDonald, Suzanne Collins, Dean Koontz, James Patterson, Herman Melville, and others use point of view successfully.

30 min
The Essentials of Dazzling Dialogue
12: The Essentials of Dazzling Dialogue

Mr. Bell demonstrates how dialogue is the fastest way to improve any manuscript. He introduces the five functions of dialogue and breaks down the importance of vocabulary, syntax, and specifics like regionalism to help build the character. Examine examples from Orrie Hitt, Margaret Mitchell, John Howard Lawson, Charles Webb, and others. Explore the importance of subtext—what is underneath the words and how it can suggest secrets, fears, memories, yearnings, or hopes.

31 min
Tools for Talk
13: Tools for Talk

Gain insightful tips to keep realistic dialogue from being predictable by learning how to script the unexpected. Mr. Bell challenges you with exercises like determining the opposite of what a reader would assume a response should be, curving the language, and assigning “roles” to your characters to better form relationships, conflict, and realistic conversations. You’ll also gain tips for invoking silence—white space and inner monologues. Dive into the nuts and bolts of grammar in dialogue.

33 min
Voice and Style
14: Voice and Style

What is voice? Mr. Bell hasn’t found a good definition, so he gives you his own. Citing examples from Janet Evanovich, Elmore Leonard, Douglas Adams, Tom Robbins, Dashiell Hammett, John D. MacDonald, Raymond Chandler, and others, you’ll gain the knowledge to master your voice by getting into your character. Then, delve into the rudimentary lessons of a good writer: showing versus telling, avoiding narrative summaries, writing great descriptions, and using telling details. Mr. Bell demonstrates some easy tools for helping you avoid common pitfalls, such as plotting an intensity scale and a seven-step checklist for creating a setting.

34 min
Make a Scene
15: Make a Scene

According to Mr. Bell, a scene consists of objective, obstacles, and outcome. A character always has a goal in every scene, and without a challenge to the goal there is no momentum. See how Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Michael Connelly use an emotional beat—emotion, analysis, and decision—to build conflict and tension in a scene and keep it going. Dissect the elements to create and use a successful hook and how to end each chapter on a prompt that will make the reader want to keep reading.

32 min
Subplots and Parallel Plots
16: Subplots and Parallel Plots

Understand how weaving in smaller conflicts and challenges—subplots and parallel plots—is a great way to expand a story’s range. Learn the three types of subplots. See how authors such as Jim Butcher, Margaret Mitchell, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Michael Connelly, and Suzanne Collins successfully integrate subplots into their main story lines. Mr. Bell introduces a formula for determining how many subplots your book should have and a simple grid you can use to manage multiple plots.

31 min
Deepening the Reader’s Emotional Experience
17: Deepening the Reader’s Emotional Experience

Emotions can be tricky. You must walk a fine line to portray enough emotion to make your story and characters gripping and memorable, but also to avoid melodrama where the emotional hook feels contrived. Mr. Bell shows you how to map the hot spots so you don’t get bogged down writing it. He’ll unpack the power of authors who have mastered delivering an emotional punch, such as John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, Stephen King, John Harvey, and Raymond Chandler. He also introduces an exercise that helps you create strong yet concise emotional moments, and examines the power of metaphors to deepen emotional connection.

31 min
First Pages That Grab the Reader
18: First Pages That Grab the Reader

Starting a scene is one of the most important parts of a book. Mr. Bell introduces you to the different kinds of beginnings and investigates the benefits of using a prologue. With examples from Mary Higgins Clark, Harlan Coben, Ken Kesey, Michael Connelly, Suzanne Collins, John Gilstrap, Mickey Spillane, and David Morrell, you’ll learn how to start your scenes with a bang, raise big questions, and then switch things up in the next scene, so your readers are on the edge of their seats.

31 min
Revising Your Novel
19: Revising Your Novel

Learn the two most important rules of writing and then hear Mr. Bell’s corollary to those rules. Revisions are extremely important and take a lot of discipline. Get helpful tips for a revision schedule, learn why you need to take a cool-off period before taking a first pass, gain tricks for helping you re-read with fresh eyes, and use shortcuts for marking places you need to come back to so you can read straight through. Mr. Bell also provides excellent advice about using outside readers, both professionals and “beta readers.”

32 min
Blunders and Baloney
20: Blunders and Baloney

Mr. Bell provides an overview of the most common blunders that could knock you out of the running for publication before you even get started, including awkward flashbacks, fluffy dialogue, being overly happy, or being too predictable. Using examples from best-selling writers including Sarah Pekkanen, Jodi Picoult, Dan Koontz, Mark Twain, and Toni Morrison, he re-evaluates some of the most common writing advice, busting common misconceptions and myths.

34 min
Getting Published
21: Getting Published

Mr. Bell unpacks the most important parts of a book proposal that you would send to an agent or a publisher: query, synopsis, and sample chapters—defining each, and breaking down what you should and shouldn’t do. He investigates the pros and cons of using an agent and publisher and gives invaluable advice on what to look for in an agent, how to negotiate a publishing contract, the importance of copyrights, how to protect yourself, and the most important component: getting paid!

33 min
The Self-Publishing Option
22: The Self-Publishing Option

Is self-publishing a viable option? Are the writers who make a living through self-publishing simply lucky? Do you have what it takes to become an “author-preneur?” Mr. Bell spends an entire lecture breaking down the pros and cons of the self-publishing alternative. Gain a plethora of tips of how to find success when self-publishing and learn how to sort through the details like covers, formatting, picking a platform, marketing, and how to price your book.

33 min
Marketing Your Work
23: Marketing Your Work

Even if you have an agent, you are still responsible for some aspects of marketing. But you don’t have to have an MBA or be a professional marketer to be a successful advocate for your work. Mr. Bell introduces you to the most important marketing tools. Get tips on selecting a marketable title, creating taglines, finding customers, using social media, building a website, using emails and newsletters, and knowing which self-publishing tools are worth the investment.

32 min
Conquering the Mental Game of Writing
24: Conquering the Mental Game of Writing

Look at the most common reasons for writer's block and get tips for how to change your mental state when you feel blocked—see how something as simple as changing your location can change your mood and your mindset. Discover how to find inspiration in unusual places. And finally, Mr. Bell provides advice for dealing with rejection, which all writers face on occasion. Learn how to set your expectations and rejection won’t defeat you.

35 min
How to Write Short Stories That Sell (BONUS)
25: How to Write Short Stories That Sell (BONUS)

Mr. Bell introduces you to the most important component of a successful short story. Once he’s revealed this vital component, take a look at the history of the genre through this lens, uncovering successes and failures and highlighting both standout and unrecognized authors. He’ll also provide invaluable tips to help you improve your writing—in any medium—and advice on what to do with your finished piece.

31 min
James Scott Bell

The tools and techniques you learn can be applied at any stage of your writing and will serve you the rest of your writing life.


University of Southern California


University of Southern California

About James Scott Bell

James Scott Bell is an award-winning novelist and writing instructor. He is a winner of the International Thriller Writers Award and the author of a best-selling book on writing, Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot That Grips Readers from Start to Finish. He received his BA in Film Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he studied writing with Raymond Carver, and his JD with honors from the University of Southern California Gould School of Law. A former trial lawyer, Mr. Bell now writes and speaks full time.

Mr. Bell is a prolific author. His works include the Mike Romeo thriller series (Romeo’s Rules, Romeo’s Way, and Romeo’s Hammer), the Ty Buchanan legal thriller series (Try Dying, Try Darkness, and Try Fear), and the novels Your Son Is Alive, Don’t Leave Me, Blind Justice, and Final Witness. He has written several popular writing books, including Just Write: Creating Unforgettable Fiction and a Rewarding Writing Life; Conflict and Suspense; and The Art of War for Writers: Fiction Writing Strategies, Tactics, and Exercises. Mr. Bell has also published How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fastest Way to Improve Any Manuscript; Write Your Novel From the Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone in Between; Super Structure: The Key to Unleashing the Power of Story; How to Write Pulp Fiction; and How to Make a Living as a Writer.

Mr. Bell served as a fiction columnist for Writer’s Digest. He has taught novel writing at Pepperdine University as well as in writing seminars across the United States and many parts of the world, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

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