All writers plot to some degree, some just more methodically than others. I’ve always been more of a seat of the pants writer instead of a plotter. The characters show up in my head with their problems and want me to fix them. I’ve tried. Really I have, but some stories just can’t be fixed.
I want my next novel to be done with more foresight and planning so that I don’t beat my head against a brick wall trying to figure out how to get my characters interlaced with the plot. Not that I don’t enjoy the process, but there has to be a better way.
This is why I’ve resolved to study more books on craft and work smarter, not harder. I am really liking the Plot and Structure book by James Scott Bell, who obviously knows a thing or two about plotting (see yesterday’s post for his latest thriller).
The book has great chapters on the three act structure, crafting scenes, developing characters, and how to get plot ideas. It all pivots on two essentials: the LOCK system and Back Cover Copy. Once these are in place, the real work can begin.
LOCK stands for Lead, Objective, Confrontation, and Knockout. In other words, a compelling LEAD character has an OBJECTIVE (a want or desire). While racing toward the objective, CONFRONTATION (opposition) from characters and outside forces occurs making it seem impossible that the lead will meet his goal. In a final battle, a KNOCKOUT ending leaves the reader satisfied. The LOCK system. Essential to every good story.
Back Cover Copy (BCC) is a 250 to 500 word summary of what the book is about. The lead character and what he or she wants. The confrontation. What is at stake. It draws the reader in so that he will buy the book and gives a “feel” for the story (light, brooding, thriller, romantic). An exercise and worksheet are presented in Plot and Structure for doing this. I highly recommend this to help you write your BCC.
Mr. Bell explores several methods of plotting (or not plotting), but one stood out to me—the Index Card system. I’ve heard this discussed many times, but something about it “clicked” with me this time. It’s a no pressure system of writing down any and every scene that comes to mind, no matter what its importance might be or the place it will come in the story. Instructions are given for arranging the scenes so that plot points (James Scott Bell calls them doorways) are critically placed, the tension mounts steadily throughout the book, ending in a climactic scene. Every scene does not have to be in place to start writing. An empty card with a reminder of what might go “here” can be used. Once you are happy with the result, the cards are numbered in pencil, then shuffled. Yes. Mixed up completely and rearranged to rethink more connections or different outcomes. It sounds intriguing.
I can do this. I have my cards and have started jotting scene ideas on them. Mr. Bell recommends letting this process have its due course. Don’t rush. Well, that fits me—I like to let things brew for awhile.
The remainder of the book has suggestions for writing chapter summaries, fixing plot holes, writing the first draft, polishing, rewriting, and general tips. I’ve not quite finished the book, but I’m jazzed about getting started on my own story. Will I be a die-hard plotter after this? Only time will tell.
In the meantime, what are you? A plotter? Seat of the pants writer? What plotting secrets can you share? I’d love to hear from you.
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