I find this writing book pretty useful. It reminds me of basics and has a ton of ideas to help give me a kick in the pants. This post is less of a “review” and more of a summary. Here are my favourite takeaways. If you want to write a book, I’ll move from Bell’s ideas from the most general to the more specific for how to come up with one.
LOCK – Bell’s LOCK system is the core idea in the book. It stands for Lead, Objective, Conflict and Knockout (Ending). It’s super basic, but a good reminder. Keep your Lead interesting. Make sure they have internal and external conflicts and motivations. Give them an Objective, not just in the book but in each scene. What are they trying to achieve? Why does it matter? What Conflict stands in their way? What are the antagonist’s motivations and goals? How are they in direct opposition to the Lead’s? The more locked-in you can make your Lead and villain, the better. Motivation and asking Why are better for this than external circumstances.
Lastly, how will you stick the landing? You could write the best book ever but if your ending is flat, that’s what will be remembered. The way to stick your landing is to make it RESONATE. Draw on the motivation and internal character arc to make sure that how the Conflict gets resolved matters to the reader. If you can throw in a twist, even better. If you can figure out who your lead is, what their goal is, how they’re being opposed, and how the story ends, you’re way ahead of the game.
Disturbance and 2 Doorways. This is a summary of structure. You’ve got your Lead, their goal, and their opposition, and you know where they all end up, right? How do you get them there? First, you create a disturbance. This is the inciting incident that jars your hero out of their regular life. A letter arrives, they meet an old friend, someone is murdered. They can still walk away from the story, but something is different now. This is all act one, it’s setting up the things you need in motion: who your lead is, what the objective is, why it matters, and how he’ll be opposed.
The first doorway is the doorway from act one into act two, and it’s where your Lead must commit to the story. They can’t go back to the way things were now, it’s impossible. This is where it gets personal, usually. Now they have to try to resolve the Conflict and reach their Objective. They’ll probably fail, but this is what act two is all about.
The second doorway of course leads to act three. This doorway is the event/moment that sets your Lead and Conflict on a direct collision course; the climax is inevitable and the Lead has no choice but to see it through. Often this is where your Dark Moment will come in, where everything seems lost. You’re on your way to that knock-out ending you envisioned!
ARM – action, reaction, more action. Okay, so now you’ve got your general ideas sorted, you have a structure, it’s time to write your scenes, the building block of the novel! Right!? Right. Here’s what you need to know to do that: ARM. A scene is a unit of change, which sounds great, but what does that mean? With that basic but vague definition, you can end up with a lot of navel-gazing “scenes” and vignettes that don’t actually do anything. ARM gets a bit more specific. As noted, it stands for Action, Reaction, More Action. And that’s it! A scene should have those three elements. Something happens (preferably caused by your Lead), they must react to it, which sets them up for the next Action. Scene and sequel, according to Jim Butcher. Don’t get too bogged down in the reaction, but it’s a great place for realizations and character arc.
There you have it. You can write a novel with these basics and the plot might not suck. I suggest reading the whole of Bell’s book to get into more detail, of course, but this is a decent overview. The last two sections are tools and exercises Bell shares for improving your Plot game.
Deconstruction! You’ve probably heard of this one but never done it. Take a handful of your favourite books, particularly in the genre you’re writing, and go through and actually deconstruct them. Yes, write out the goal, the conflict, the outcome of *each scene*. Make a massive scene list. Bell has steps for doing this, and it’s daunting, but you can see how it would really up your own game to see what works. I plan on doing it… eventually…
Novel Notebook. We all do this already in some way, but something about Bell’s discussion resonated for me. Have a specific notebook or massive Google Doc or whatever to act as your story bible for each project. Have sections for character notes, plot, research, anything and everything you can think of to stick in one place. Maps! Collage! You name it. It’s a great inspiration tool as much as an organizational one.