Planning the plot of your story is exactly the right time to channel your inner 6-year-old, according to author David Morrell. His approach is all about understanding exactly what’s going on in the basement, so that the resultant writing is founded on a deep understanding of the undercurrents. The method is very simple – keep asking ‘why?’.
- Why are you writing this story?
- Why will readers love the main character?
- Why are they on this particular course or doing these particular actions?
- Why is that important?
- What’s the character’s journey really about? (Okay, that’s a ‘what’)
- Why are they in conflict with the antagonist?
- Why can’t they walk away?
- Why is the antagonist doing this?
And so on. You get the idea. Pretend you’re justifying your story to a 6-year-old and it’ll help you get right down into the roots. Don’t just do it once, either – keep asking that question at every stage of the story. Employ an actual 6-year-old to come and help. You must know someone who’d be grateful for a bit of free babysitting.
James Scott Bell also has a simple technique for plotting – something he calls the LOCK system:
- L – Lead. Your protagonist (and antagonist) must be complex, compelling, believable and driven.
- O – Objective. The protagonist wants or needs something so much that it forces them forwards. The objective must be essential so that the risk and consequences of failure is a real concern to the reader.
- C – Confrontation. Conflict. There’s opposition to this desire. This makes the risk of failure present and believable .
- K – Knockout. A knockout ending, something with real power and emotional impact to the reader. Victory or tragedy, it doesn’t matter, but no one wants to see a draw.
Again, that may all seem pretty self-evident. The trick is in continually going back to it. Apply LOCK to every chapter, every scene, and justify it. Why is the lead compelling? How can he be more so? Why is his objective essential and what will happen if he fails to attain it? Is there enough confrontation to make the reader concerned about the chances of success? And finally, is the ending powerful enough to make the reader come back to your work in the future?