Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Creating a Great Plot that makes Readers Gasp


When I started writing I use to often wonder what a plot was. It gave me nightmares that my stories may not have much of a plot. Then, came the crucial question, what  was or is a plot? Does plot just happen? Is plot a result of the different scenes tied up in a proper narrative order?  Do I have to create  a plot? Or will a plot just emerge at the end of the story, after the scenes have been arranged in a proper order. I use to hope that there would be someone who would answer all my plot questions.

As I wrote more and more, I realized that we have to work hard  to create an engrossing plot that will keep readers sticking to the story, page after page.

When I read James Scott Bell’s  book- Plot & Structure, all my plot worries fell away. Its the first writing craft book I bought. Scott has come up with an amazing and simple structure that when applied to our stories will help us come up with a solid plot everytime. I realized after reading his book, that plots can be worked to perfection at the initial stage of drafting the stories.

This system by Scott is  a simple set of foundational principles called the LOCK system.

LOCK stands for Lead, Objective, Confrontation and Knockout.

Scott  writes that a strong plot starts with an interesting lead character, a compelling someone we have to watch throughout the course of the story/novel.

 Then  he talks about the one and only one dominant objective for the lead character. Objective is a want or a desire that the character has. This forms the “Story Question”  will the Lead realize her Objective. An objective can take either of two forms:to get something or to get away from something.

 Scott advises  that Confrontation is crucial to the story. Opposition from other characters and external forces bring stories to life. We have to constantly throw obstacles into our lead’s path and not make things easy for her or him.

After all the pages we have put our readers through, our stories must have the Knockout power to satisfy readers. Great endings not just satisfy readers, but also make them happy.

When a story idea pops into our mind, we can apply this system to see whether the story has enough power to fuel the pages.

I have now decided to keep the LOCK in mind whenever a story idea pops into my mind. This will give me a sense of whether the story is worthy of all the time I spend on it. Do you work with the LOCK system in mind? Or do you have another method of creating that great plot. Please share your method with us. We all can learn from it.

21 comments:

khushi said...

Nice points for starters. I do wonder about the 'knockout' ending. What will satisfy the reader? Sometimes I find the end of a story disappointing; a feeling not shared by everyone. Or then it might just be the other way round. How should one get one's finger on the pulse of the reader. Would it help to write a story with a target group in mind? Or does the genre lead you to a better decision?

Madeleine said...

I like the LOCK analogy: Lead, Objective, Confrontation and Knockout.
Some novels cleverly feed us this without it seeming to be happening, like Notes on a Scandal where there is a hidden story within the main story. Great post :O)

Karen Lange said...

I love JSB - his books and advice. Picked up this book but haven't read it yet. Thanks for the info; am heading to pull it off my shelf now! :)

Rachna Chhabria said...

@ Khushi...my take on a Knockout ending would be something unexpected, but also something in keeping with the theme of the book (for a comedy one cannot have a tragic ending and for a serious book, a comic ending).Endings for me have to be satisfactory, they have to answer many questions and tie up several loose ends. Keeping the target readers in mind doesn't hurt either.

@ Madeleine...I loved the LOCK analogy. I am going to keep it in mind while plotting my next book.

@ Karen...I too picked up the book last year( actually I asked one of my close friends shifting back to India to get a copy.) I read it few days back. Do read it, its full of wonderful advice.

Alka Gurha said...

Great analogy to write fiction....I am all for great endings.

Philip Verghese'Ariel' said...

Good notes of a good book, the LOCK theory is really interesting, your points brought back the memories of my good old days journalism classes.
Thanks Rachana for the information about the book, i need to get one. Thanks again for dropping in and the follow.
Best regards,
Keep inform
Philip

Saumya said...

"As I wrote more and more, I realized that we have to work hard to create an engrossing plot that will keep readers sticking to the story, page after page."

I so needed to read about LOCK today. It really brings my plot into perspective and shows where I need to put in that hard work. Thanks!

Lydia K said...

My crit partner is huge fan of Bell's book. I should probably pick it up soon!

Misha said...

I basically started my rough draft knowing only the end of my story. How the plot got me there wasn't such a big thing for me.

So I wrote the first draft blind so that I could get to know the characters and get a feel for the story. When I rewrote, I paid more attention to the plot, making sure that every story had its events to keep it going. (I have at least five plots going at a given time. Only two are overtly dealt with in Doorways.)

Lynda R Young said...

I've read this book too. It is a great one to get a handle on structure. I like his Art of War for Writers too.

Julie Musil said...

Rachna, as you know, I absolutely LOVE this book. It helped me so much when I plotted my novels. I'm so grateful that Bell writes in such a regular guy way, making it easy to understand. And I love the LOCK system!

alexia said...

Great post! I met James Scott Bell at a writing conference and got to attend some of his workshops. He is really nice and has great advice!

Ellie Garratt said...

I have this book and it answered many of my questions and worries, too. I would recommend any of his books to aspiring writers.

Ellie Garratt

Margo Benson said...

I'm also a fan of this book. In my genre (Romance) I'm learning to exaggerate initial plot ideas, which felt daft to begin with. Now I hurl all kinds of conflict at my MCs and they come back for more!

Aron White said...

Haven't heard of LOCK before. I'm already starting to apply it to some story ideas as I type this :) I think plot sometimes is like Alfred Hitchcock's advice about themes in which he stated that you shouldn't try to create a theme, they instead emerge as you go along. In addition to this though, I think it's crucial to know where you're going in the end, but there's a lot of fun filling in the blanks in between.

Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina said...

Great share, Rachna, I haven't come across the LOCK system before, although I'm always hearing about Bell's book. It's a good approach to keep in mind. In the July/August 2011 issue of Writer's Digest, he has a wonderful article about revision excerped from his latest book that I find helpful, as I am in the middle of a major revision of one of my books.

Tony Benson said...

I do use LOCK as an overriding structure for all my plot themes. James Scott Bell's was the first book I read on writing. I've read a few others since and I find each one brings something to the process - another aspect which helps round off the approach. Structure, though, is such an important aspect of story development.

Tana Adams said...

OOH I love this! I just re-read this book the other day. I most certainly work from the LOCK system. I like me some trouble brewing.

SBJones said...

Thank you for pointing out this reference book. When I outlined my trilogy, I went for what I wanted to see on the big screen. I don't recall ever sitting down and actively thinking about plot. I will have to sit down and read what it has to say.

I went for elements that made for successful movies and tv shows. Something strange (magic, airships), a budding romance, sprinkle of comedy, lots of action and special effects opportunities, time travel, and a hero's journey.

Kenda said...

Thanks for a fantastic review of this book. I've heard lots about it, but have yet to get my hands on it. I think now it's a must!

Laura Marcella said...

I love this book! The LOCK idea for plotting is great. I keep it in mind when I'm brainstorming new story ideas!

I tagged you in my post today! You don't have to play; I just thought you'd like to see it. :) Have a wonderful weekend!