Friday, July 15, 2011

L.O.C.K. into a Stellar Plot

As most of you may already know, I've been diligently attempting to make the switch from Pantser to Plotter. Granted, I'm not a bona fide rendition of the latter--at least I don't think I am--but I do try and plot ahead at least 3 chapters (which I totally need to do this weekend, because I'm so behind) and keep myself immersed in story and characters at all times.

I've also tried to implement more "how-to" books into my regime. Now, I know what you're thinking: "Uh, but you said you don't condone the use of how-to's..." and I don't. But! Deb Dixon recommended Les Edgerton's Finding Your Voice, which is awesome and incredibly well-written and loaded with all kinds of helpful tips, information, and exercises. While reading through Les's fabulous manual on voice (with yellow highlighter, thank you very much), I happened upon yet another how-to: James Scott Bell's Plot & Structure. And here's the really cool part: I got it on Amazon Kindle for $1.99.

I know, right? That's how you get sucked in with the Kindle, folks. Just sayin'...

Anyways. I've only just begun P&S--while simultaneously reading Finding Your Voice, mind--and already I'm amazed at 1) the quality of the writing & how interesting Mr. Bell made his how-to and 2) the basics and ease of plotting out your very own novel.

So, for today's post, I thought I'd share a tidbit of Mr. Bell's theory on plotting. He calls it the L.O.C.K. system. As a disclaimer, this system belongs totally to him and is a vital part of his teachings on plot. None of this came from own personal thoughts, save for the added comments.

L is for Lead -- Every strong plot begins with an interesting Lead character. Compelling and memorable, this is someone we just have to watch throughout the course of the novel. And this doesn't mean we have to entirely sympathize with this person. It just means we need to be in this person's head. We're in for the long haul. Can't wait to see what happens next.

Harry Potter -- Jo Rowling's Lead Character

O is for Objective -- The character must have an Objective. A want. A desire. A desperate need. This is the driving force in both literary and commercial fiction. The forward motion that keeps the Lead from just sitting around, staring at the walls and flipping through television channels. According to Mr. Bell, an Objective can take either of two forms: to get something or to get away from something. He goes on to say that solid plots have one and only one dominant Objective for the Lead character. And this forms the great story question: "Will the Lead realize his/her Objective?"

James & Lily Potter, Harry's parents, killed by Lord Voldemort.
Throughout the novels, Harry always bears them in mind; not only must he save
the wizarding world from Voldemort, but he must also avenge their deaths,
the childhood of which he was robbed.

C is for Confrontation -- Simply put, this is the opposition from characters and outside forces which brings your story fully to life. Keeps your Lead from reaching his Objective. If the Lead goes on his merry way without hitting any roadblocks, where's the fun in that? Seriously, our readers want to worry. Bite their fingernails. Fret and invest that sacred emotion which blossoms upon finding a really good story with memorable characters. Mr. Bell quoted an ancient scribe who said, "Get your protagonist up a tree. Throw rocks at him. Then get him down." Shove obstacles in his way. Make matters difficult. Never let him off too easy.

Voldemort & his Death Eaters. The main Confrontation for Harry and his
friends. Weaved throughout almost every conflict, Harry must
consistently find ways to "defeat" this band of misfits over & over.

K is for Knockout -- This is the ending. The summit. The moment we've all been waiting for, hung on through the course of six hundred and eleven pages to see... All right, hopefully not that many. The end of your novel MUST satisfy the reader. Why do I say this? Simple. Do you really want your reader to be disappointed? To read the last line of your novel and say, "Wow. Ah, that's it? Really?" And proceed to throw your hard work upside the nearest wall--or worse. You, the writer, must take the Lead through the journey toward his Objective, remembering to throw some Confrontation along the path. He may make it to the end victoriously. Or... he may fall tragically. Either way, the end should prove both compelling and satisfying.

Harry & Voldemort finally battle. Mano-a-mano. Or, as it were, wand-to-wand.

After all, all of us want to make someone's Keeper Shelf, right?

What tips do you have for creating a compelling novel? Do you start with a character, then think of all the evil ways you can mess up her life? Or do you start with a plot, then add the characters? A little of both?

Peace, Love, and Junior Mints,


Bonnie Rae said...

I am a plotter. It just works for me. I just love messing up my MC's life =P

Andrew Leon said...

I don't think I really start with either. I mean, House sort of started with the characters in that I wanted to write a book for/about my kids, so there were the characters. The situation came fairly naturally from that in that it dealt with a thing I think all kids dream about in one form or another.

However, the other two stories in my head started with a concept (a world) that, then, spat a character into existence. One of those, the plot, also, flows out of the concept. The second... well, it's a bit more difficult (especially since I think of it as my great idea), and I'm still working on it.

Except I have to, at least, finish the first story arc of House before I can go on to either of those other ideas. :/

If only I could write them all at once!

Julie said...

This is so interesting and helpful, thanks for sharing! I haven't read either of these books, but now I'm intrigued. I'm a terrible pantser and trying to become more of a plotter too, these are great tips.

Lela said...

This is a great method to follow, sounds like. I started with character first, then thought of how to hurt her and screw her life up to the point of misery...same with the newer one, as well. How can we torture poor Elerbee? lol Thanks for the tips and the book recommendations!

Anonymous said...

I started with a "OMG...Listen to this...

Then the two loudest words in the world to a writer: What. If.

Alyssia said...

@Bonnie Laying out the basic skeleton of a book, then filling in the blanks. That's what James Scott Bell teaches. And it's so simple. Makes me wonder where I might've been if I'd done this for the past three books or so.

@Andrew I feel your pain! I've tried to simultaneously write fanfiction and pub-story (novel for publication), but it's so difficult. The bad part is that I love both, and when I'm not writing fanfiction, I miss it. Like you, I've just gotta light a fire under my own arse, get this book finished, so I can move on to the next one pounding at my muse. ;)

@Julie I'm glad you found it helpful! These are beautifully written how-to's, for sure, and I think they'll definitely help in anyone's quest for writing excellence.

@Lela Definitely a great method. Easy! Makes you wonder... uh, really? That's it? And yes! Let's torture Elerbee a little! He needs to get his hands dirty. ;)

@Anonymous There you go! The two biggest words vital to a writer's ongoing career: What. If. Well said. :)

Donna K. Weaver said...

I'm a panster in spite of being totally organized in other aspects of my life. I did NaNo last year with an outline but when the story shifted it dropped me cold. I'm hoping to give it another go this year with the same story, though I'll be completely rewriting it since I'm changing it from MG to YA. We'll see how it goes. I've decided I'll have to use an outline for my SciFi project, which has been slumbering for nearly a year now at 50,000 words.

LOVE your HP examples. I've got that book. I think I need to go back and read it again. Thanks for the reminder.

Shannon Lawrence said...

Thanks for sharing the L.O.C.K method. Makes sense to me! And it can be sort of tied in with Debra Dixon's thoughts, as well. I think my characters tend to come to me first, but they're in a situation that leads to the plot. Some of these stories have been in my head so long that I don't remember what it was that got me at first.

Jan Morrison said...

I'm a complete pantser and Bell makes a case for that in the book you are reading. His book on Revision & Self-Editing is also very helpful!
I start with a vision that I see. Just the smallest thing - in one case, a woman walking the rocks at Peggy's Cove and a red bundle she spies.
Then I ask her - what's that? She says - I have no idea and who the hell are you? And we're off.

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