Thursday, April 23, 2009

Last night I taught a session on plotting stories. Two writers I leaned on for advice were James Scott Bell and Gene Rutteridge. Let me provide a brief synopsis.

James Scott Bell (in Plot and Structures) lays out what he calls the L.O.C.K. method. "L" stands for an interesting Lead character. It's got to be someone who will interest the reader. "O" is for the Lead's Objective. This has to be of extreme importance to the Lead. The Objective must be something the Lead strives towards or runs away from. "C" means Confrontation. The Lead must butt heads against a antagonist, be it human, animal, nature, alien or internal. The Confrontation tries to prevent the Lead from achieving his/her Objective. "K" brings the story to a conclusion with a Knockout ending.

The next step is to wrap the L.O.C.K. method into a three Act story. Whether you write a novel, short story, screen play or an illustration, the three Act outline works. During our class last night, we came up with several outlines to stories by doing just that: L.O.C.K. + Three Acts = a can't-put-it-down story.

In Act One, the writer establishes the Lead, the Objective, the Confrontation, the setting, the mood and hooks the reader into the story. Somewhere past the halfway point in Act 1, something happens to the Lead. Last night we called it the Point of Interruption (POI). I don't know who came up with that, but it's a great concept. The POI pushes the Lead to a Door of No Return. The Lead goes through this door into Act 2.

This part of the story develops the subplots, twists and turns, minor characters walk in and out, all the while ratcheting up the tension. There must be action, followed by reaction, and then a more powerful action. Of course, the growth of tension must be appropriate for the genre and the intended audience. Somewhere past the halfway point in Act 2, the Lead again faces a POI. This propels the character through Door #2 into Act 3.

Act 3 is where the action gets down and dirty. The Lead gets over his/her head. It looks as if their Objective will never be reached. Confrontation swirls around them like killer bees. And then...the Knockout ending. The one where the reader gasps in surprise, never saw it coming, sighs in delight and can't wait to tell their friends.

This is a great way to outline a story. It can be the barest of skeletons, or the meatest of dinners. And it's changable, so if the story diverts from the outline, then redo the outline. It's not illegal to do so. It is also a great way to brainstorm.

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