This is a guest post by Ria Majumdar
There are a lot of architects out there in the world. Some are well-known; some not so much. That doesn’t mean the successful one has better ideas, better creativity, better blah blah. No, the better architect has a firm knowledge of the layout of the land, the composition of the soil, the various disasters the area is prone to, the topography of the land and more importantly the expectations of the would-be residents. This knowledge enables him or her to design a building that is both structurally sound as well as aesthetically pleasing.
Do you think the architect would have gotten anywhere if he stuck to the mantra that creativity is supreme and everything else comes after? If he hadn’t designed the building keeping in mind that the area was prone to earthquakes? Or if he had built such a bizarre structure that the residents would have sued him six ways to Sunday for making them look like Oompa Loompas? No, he wouldn’t have. And that’s what every writer needs to keep in their mind, too.
A successful writer is one who not only has a ground-breaking idea but also has a firm knowledge of the rules of plotting and structure. No knowledge of the latter, and your idea that might have been revolutionary will get shoved to the slush-pile on an agent/editor’s desk because the reader wasn’t able to connect to your ultimate creativity.
You might be one of those people who think that creativity is the king and all these rules will only stunt it. But then you are the one who needs to decide if you want a wide readership or wish to write for ONLY YOUR satisfaction. The rules of writing do not stunt creativity; on the contrary, they strengthen the basic framework of your novel so that you can create as extravagant a story on it as you want without the fear that it will fall short of hooking in your readers and making them stay awake till five in the morning turning pages in anticipation.
So now that I have established exactly how important it is for a writer to know the rules of writing, let’s head on with the matter on hand and begin with the basics of plotting.
A plot is the summary of your entire novel. That is to say, it is in the least the basic steel rods over which you will build your story and expand it to 80,000 – 100,000 words. A story plot in essence has exactly four elements— Lead, Objective, Confrontation and Knockout. Or in short LOCK. Without these four your plot might as well be a hole-ridden bucket that is unable to hold the story for more than three pages. So let’s summarize what each of them is:-
1. LEAD: refers to the protagonist of your novel. It can be more than one but for simplicity’s sake let’s talk about only a single protagonist.
The lead is the focal point of the novel. It is their story you are telling. What if the lead is the bad guy? There is no rule that the lead has to be a goody-two-shoes. Artemis Fowl in the popular series of the same name by Eoin Colfer is an evil-boy genius who kidnaps Captain Holly Short, the only female officer of the Lower Elements Police or LEP of the fairy folk, and ransoms her for gold. The most important thing to remember is that the protagonist must be someone interesting as well as likeable with flaws to work out on throughout the novel so that your readers play for their team, whether they are good or bad.
Make the lead a bloated, all-powerful hero, and your readers will take relish when they are thrown to the metaphorical sharks. And we don’t want that now, do we?
2. OBJECTIVE: What is the purpose of the Lead in the story? Sitting at home and eating potato-chips won’t do, nor will the mindset of letting the story flow without any fixed goal because it stunts “creativity”. Your Lead MUST have a goal that they must reach in the end.
How they do that is up to you. You can put as many spins to this as you want, but in the end the point to remember is that the lead must have a firm objective. No objective, and we go back to the hole-ridden bucket theory.
3. CONFRONTATION: The Lead must have opposition that tries to prevent him from reaching the Objective. Confrontation is the element that adds spice to your story. It adds conflict and makes the readers bite the nails off their fingers as they pray for your Lead’s success.
In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the Leads are Harry, Hermione and Ron. Their Objective is to reach the philosopher’s stone before Snape and prevent him from stealing it. Here the author, J.K.Rowling, could have easily made Harry cross the Great Hall and find the stone lying in a forlorn corner, but if she had done that would her series have gone viral over the entire world? No. It was the Confrontation in the book that spiced up the tale. Add Fluffy, the three-headed monstrous pet of Hagrid’s guarding the trapdoor, the Devil’s Snare right below it, the Chess Game where you either win or die–and you have the novel everyone is crazy over.
Thus Confrontation is of prime importance in a novel. Confrontation is the difference between a bowl of rich and steaming crab chowder and stale salt and water; the secret spices that zing up the tale.
4. KNOCKOUT: The spectators watching a boxing match do not turn up to watch the fight end in a draw. They want one of the fighters to be knocked out in the end. And that’s the last and most important element of a novel’s plot.
You have your Lead, their Objective, and the heavy duty Confrontation they receive as they work towards it. But it must all end in a final battle with the Big Boss Troublemaker or the BBT. The Lead must lock horns with the BBT and come out the winner. They must shove the BBT aside and finally reach their Objective in the end. Not tying the story’s thread with this because you are “writing a series” and you might as well burn your manuscript of your own volition.
Without a Knockout you are leaving your readers unsatisfied in the end. Whether your novel is a stand-alone or a series, every book you write must have a Knockout in the end. After all, the people on a Roller Coaster ride eagerly await the monstrously huge loop near the end of their ride that leaves them satisfied and wobbly on their feet when it is all over.
So the LOCK is the basics of plotting. Learn it and apply it, and you will have a masterpiece no agent/editor will dare push away into the slush-pile but instead will revere with happiness at having hit gold after sieving through a mountain of loose work that wasted their time.
P.S. If you found this post informative, then I recommend you buy and read the book Plot and Structure by author James Scott Bell. It is a must-read for fiction writers!
About this post’s author:
My name is Ria. I am a writer, a budding blogger, and an undergraduate in dentistry in real life. I am usually found either superglued to my laptop, which my mother told me was a piano when I was a kid, or lurking in cyber space as the invisible observer who blogs about the quirks of people she observes in real life. To read more of my stuff (and understand the depth of my psychosis), head over to my blog.