I’m currently reading Write Great Fiction – Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell and I’m finding it a great mixture of tips and advice that is backed up with plenty of film and book examples. Even though I’m going to summarise quite a few of his points over the next couple of weeks, I’d definitely recommend buying this book for yourselves. Support the writers that support the writers 🙂
The LOCK system is a set of principles that have been developed from analyzing many plots – James did the work so you don’t have to (although I’d recommend reading your next novel with the LOCK system in mind and see how it relates to that book’s plot.)
LOCK is short for Lead, Objective, Confrontation and Knockout.
The principle behind Lead is simple; every strong plot must have a strong lead character that is both interesting and draws us in. The lead character must be able to carry the plot throughout the novel and be compelling. After all, the lead is often the main reason we continue to read the book; we want to see if he succeeds or fails. We can only do that if the lead has drawn us in and has compelled us to stick with him. That’s not to say that our lead should be perfect – if written well, we can accept imperfections as we all know no-one is perfect. However, we shouldn’t display too much negativity otherwise we risk the reader failing to empathise with him.
The next principle is Objective. Here we take the lead character and give him something to do, something to want, something to avoid. Basically he needs a desire. This desire should be what drives our lead on which, in turn, drives the plot on. The objective presents the desire to the reader than then poses the questions; will the lead character fulfil his desire? Or will he fail? Objective’s can involve both life and death, they can relate to achieving a particular goal, or just resolving a situation; any one is fine as long as it ties back to the lead character.
Confrontation is next. Here we have our lead character, he is compelling and we want to know more about him. We’ve given him an objective – will he save the day? Will he get the girl? However, what the plot needs now is confrontation. We want to pose that question against the objective, and then put that at risk be it via some kind of conflict. After all, if we know the lead character can simply achieve his objective with no risk, where’s the fun in that? We need our lead to have to work for his objective; we throw obstacles in his way, we have conflicts along the way; there are ups and there are downs.
Finally, we have Knockout. James’ refers to a boxing match in his book when he talks about something having knockout power. Everyone hates a draw, so you need to make sure your book ends in a knockout! At this point in your plot, you’ve drawn the reader in, lead him through a journey of confrontations as the lead character works towards achieving his objective. The last thing we want to do is disappoint the reader right at the end. There are some stories that don’t end as expect but, if they are written well, then it can be done. However, most readers will expect a grand finale.
As I said above, this is really just a brief summary of the LOCK principles. James Scott Bell goes into these in more detail in his book providing a number of examples. He also goes into greater detail for those plots that have more than one lead character (I’ll cover that bit when I get to it).
If you want to know more, Amazon (UK) sell the book here