Monday, July 16, 2018

The Lexington (SC) Serious Writers' Tour with Steven James, Michelle Medlock Adams, and Bethany Jett

Bethany Jett
by Paula Gail Benson

In May, the local Word Weavers group, an affiliate of Word Weavers International, brought the Serious Writer One Day Tour to the Riverbend Community Church in Lexington, S.C. If you’re looking for excellent craft and business instruction, I suggest you check out the offerings at The organization, operating since 2015, has online classes as well as the one-day programs and appearances at conferences.


Michelle Medlock Adams
The instructors who attended the Lexington meeting were Michelle Medlock Adams, a journalist and award-winning author of primarily children’s books and devotionals; Bethany Jett, co-founder of The Serious Writer and Vice-President of Platinum Literary Services, whose work includes devotionals, ghostwriting, and marketing; and Steven James, who I knew as a prolific thriller writer and terrific writing instructor, whose craft books include Story Trumps Structure and Troubleshooting Your Novel. I also learned that he had written a significant number of books for the inspirational market.


I decided to attend the program because I had heard Steven James speak at Killer Nashville and I knew he taught a highly respected novel writing intensive course with Robert Dugoni, limited to twelve participants each year. His presentations for the Serious Writer tour were very generous, including specific techniques and excellent handouts to help with crafting twists, creating suspense, and revising problem areas. While I spent most of my time at Steven James’ sessions, I also very much enjoyed the portions of the program where all the authors joined in to give tips about the process of marketing a book and using social media. The day was full of good advice and fellowship.


Steven James
Following are some great lists of information that James provided for improving story telling:

Aspects of Story Telling

(1) orientation, which lets a reader know where the story takes place, then provides the hook that gives the impetus for escalation;

(2) crisis or calling, which is what goes wrong, turns the world upside down, and makes the protagonist respond;

(3) escalation, which occurs as things get worse and is in two parts: (a) the moment of despair and darkness, and (b) the inevitable, unexpected conclusion; and, finally, as the story ends, are:

(4) discovery, and

(5) transformation.

James recommended that every story is driven by tension and every scene should end with a plot twist. To be satisfying, plot twists should be:

(1) unexpected;

(2) inevitable;

(3) an escalation of what preceded it; and

(4) a revelation of what went before.


He categorized the five types of plot twists as:

(1) identity;

(2) awareness;

(3) complexity (example: a sting operation);

(4) cleverness; and

(5) peril.


James listed four essentials for creating suspense:

(1) reader empathy (that is, providing a character trait or desire with which a reader can identify, for example, to love and be loved or to have an adventure);

(2) reader concern (giving reasons why a reader should care about the characters);

(3) impending danger (physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, or relational); and

(4) escalating tension.


Finally, he offered four questions to ask when solving plot problems:

(1) what would the character naturally do?

(2) how can I make things worse?

(3) how can I add twists or take the story in a new direction?

(4) what promises have I made that I have not yet kept?


Steven James said that that everything you write is a promise and that in fiction a writer has both stated and implied promises. In distinguishing among mystery, suspense, and horror, he gave the following characteristics:

(1) mysteries are intellectual, not emotional activity where the detective is two steps ahead of the reader;

(2) suspense deals with important life matters where the reader is two steps ahead of the characters and wants to stop the danger; and

(3) horror allows the gruesome event to happen with the reader and characters in the same place.


If you want to read more, please check out Steven James’ website,, and his recorded interviews with other writers at


And, if one of the Serious Writer tours or events is coming near you, you’ll find it a great program to attend!

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