Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Craft Book of the Month: April 2011--Plot and Structure

Guys, it's official. I have a new writing hero. James Scott Bell is pretty dang awesome and this book opened my eyes in many ways.

When an idea flashes into my mind, it's usually a character, a title, or a first line. Plot is the thing with feathers (sorry, Emily D.) that I struggle with.

See, I'm a bit of a "pantser," so I usually dive into a first draft with gusto (by the seat of my pants). I think I know what's going to happen, then Whoa! Swerve round that p(l)othole! and Yikes! Who saw that coming!? I think you get my drift.

Plot & Structure, part of the Write Great Fiction series from Writer's Digest Books, is going to put a stop to all this crazy driving. James Scott Bell has done a great job of simplifying things so that even a total right-brainer like me can get the hang of structure.

Bell starts his book with a "simple set of foundational principles called the LOCK system."

LOCK stands for:

L is for Lead: "A strong plot starts with an interesting Lead character." And "interesting," as Bell says, does not have to be "entirely sympathetic." (Example he uses is Clyde Griffiths, from Dreiser's An American Tragedy.)

O is for Objective: Our Lead has "an objective. A want. A desire. Objective is the driving force of fiction. It generates forward motion and keeps the Lead from just sitting around. An objective can take either of two forms: to get something or to get away from something.

The "story question," as Bell writes, is whether the Lead will realize her objective. "You want readers to worry about the story question, so the objective has to be essential to the well-being of the Lead. If the Lead doesn't get it (or get away from it), her life will take a tremendous hit for the worse."

C is for Confrontation: "Opposition from characters and outside forces brings your story fully to life. If your Lead moves toward his objective without anything in his way, we deprive readers of what they secretly want: worry. Readers want to fret about the Lead, keeping an intense involvement all the way through the novel.

K is for Knockout: "Readers of commercial fiction want to see a knockout at the end. A literary novel can play with a bit more ambiguity. In either case, the ending must have knockout power.... So take your lead through the journey toward her objective, and then send the opposition to the mat."

I guess I'm a sucker for an acronym--but LOCK is something I can easily remember each time I come to analysing or writing a story. Like most great craft books, Bell's has exercises to end each chapter, all of which serve to focus the plot mind. If you want to fashion a knockout plot (and really, who doesn't?) get your hands on this book. You won't be sorry.

(Next Week: The Three-Act Structure. Hope to see you there.)


  1. Something else to load onto my Kindle. Thanks!

  2. no way...I just bought this book!
    great minds...hee hee
    now to read it

  3. "Opposition to the mat" - !
    thanks for interesting post -
    Am currently reading two books at once, back & forth:
    Syd Field, The Screenwriter's Workbook; and
    Lajos Egri, The Art Of Dramatic Writing.
    Field for the structure-emphasis;
    Egri for the character-emphasis.
    (Egri is plays
    Field is screenplays;
    I'm writing neither, but think the info is good.
    (My projects are -- 1 book of essays and 1 comedy-mystery which will begin a series.)
    thanks again for your thoughts

  4. Thanks for the comments, everyone. And thank you, Carson, for more books to add to my "craft book" TBR pile!


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