Lock v. Idea – A look into Plot and Structure

I’m at the stage with my novel that I’ve started to consider the revision process. I still have a couple chapters to write, but I need start figuring out my next steps.

Throughout, I’ve been making document notes in my Scrivener project as to certain plot elements or character changes that occurred when writing. This lead to the realization that I need to completely restructure the beginning of my novel. I write linearly, so since writing the beginning at the start of November, I have:

  • changed a main character’s personality;
  • added an important minor character that would need to be introduced early; and,
  • figured out a plot-hole concerning means of communication.

Usually during the rewriting process you need to learn how to cut scenes; making denser, snappier prose that stands out. Since I’m fairly out of practice, I noticed a significant increase in skill as I wrote throughout November. I didn’t really find my authorial voice until mid-November, and I didn’t really figure out all of my plot until the start of January. This meant that rather than cutting out material, first I’m going to be looking at each scene and decide if it is ‘complete’ and adding in material that I had left out or changed. I suppose I’m looking at it the way bodybuilders do: first you bulk, then you cut. 

In December I took time off from writing and read Jamie Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure. On the whole, the book was a bit of a flop. While there were interesting points made in the beginning, Bell tended to repeat quotes and often entire paragraphs throughout. As well each chapter ends with a series of exercises for the reader to work on the ideas brought up in the book. I’m not person who uses–or enjoys–exercises from instructional books. I try to keep my plot and characters pretty well sketched out. Ask me to write a 1 page first person summary of my characters and I will probably just roll my eyes. Some people benefit from, and enjoy, those activities, I don’t.  

One aspect of the book I did find interesting, however, was Bell’s guide for structuring scenes and overall plots; he gave it the acronym LOCK:

Lead: Who is your lead character? Are they someone the audience should identify with, are they interesting and fully-fleshed out?
Objective: What does the lead want? What are they searching for?
Confrontation: What challenges your lead? What obstacle or opposition is your character facing?
Knockout: A “knockout ending”: one that makes the readers want to continue reading. It should either wrap up plotline or continue the mystery.

It’s an interesting way to look at scene building, however a little clunky. I think if I wanted to create a similar scene building system I would make the structure a little more character driven rather than plot driven. I think the danger of the LOCK system is that it can result in a formulaic scenes. Below is a guideline that I created and like to use, IDEA(L):

Identifiers – Is your main character interesting and identifiable? Are they recognizable to the audience? Is the setting memorable?
Drama: Is there something that the character is challenged with?
Evolution:  Has your character learned something – either personal or plot-centric?
Action:  Is there something that moves the plot forward?
Linking: (Optional) Is there that something that recurs later in the plot? Is there something linking the scenes together?

I think the benefit of the IDEA(L) is that it forces the writer to ask questions that the reader would be interested in as well look at how the scene works within the overall structure of the story. It’s a system that probably works best during the revision process, as answering the questions as you write is difficult. IDEA(L) addresses the smaller plot movements that occur within scenes. The standard writing rule is that if a scene isn’t important to the overall story or advance the plot, then it needs to be cut. This is a system I will be relying on in the future, try it out on your own writing and see if you like the result.