That’s a LOCK!

Filed in Leopard Tree, Writing tips by on December 10, 2013 0 Comments

James Scott Bell Plot and StructureSo last week I told you all that I am going to write my first novel, Leopard Tree. Publishing a post like that creates a strange, crazy (alas, temporary) high – your little private project has suddenly been exposed to all and sundry… and you’ve also committed to a scary new deadline.

So the big decision is made and your big plans are laid (hey, that rhymes!). Suddenly reality crashes in – what do I do next? I’ve got all these big ideas, themes and characters swimming around in my head – what the heck do I do with them?

The key is to get organised. I’ll happily admit that this has not been my strongest point. At times I’ve envied the organisational skills displayed by headless chickens. I need some structure, and this has been the first focus of my book research. I’ve got the what – now I need the how. (Why is everything rhyming today?)

I’ve found two good concepts that I’d like to share with you in coming weeks, and they both appeal to my preferred way of working – starting small and building from a solid base.

The first, the ‘Snowflake Method’ by the awesomely-talented Randy Ingermanson, will be a topic for another day. Today I’d like to talk about a book called Write Great Fiction: Plot and Structure* by James Scott Bell.

This book came highly recommended by my even-more-awesomely-talented wife Lu as a great starting point for establishing the structure of a novel, covering everything from the first sentence to defining your characters, plot and themes.

There’s a world of great tips and information crammed into this book, but the thing I’d like to focus on here is Bell’s ‘LOCK’ system. It’s a great concept for someone like me who knows what they want, can see the finishing line, but just needs a bit of help enjoying (and mapping) the journey.

I’m only going to list the basics of the LOCK system here, as I can’t do it justice in a single blog post, but you can find Bell’s book everywhere.

LOCK stands for

  • Lead (or main character)
  • Objective (that character’s wants or desires) ie. the driving force of the story
  • Confrontation (which brings a story to life) – Confrontation allows the reader to build an emotional attachment with your work
  • Knockout (ending) which can save a bad story or improve a great one

Bell shares many great writing tips – here are just a few.

  • All plots are character driven – without a character facing trouble, you don’t really have a plot worth reading
  • Plot is about ‘elements’, the things that go into the mix of making a good story even better, while structure is about timing – where in the mix those elements go

Bell prefers a three-act structure for any book:

  • Act 1: A problem – we react
  • Act 2: Figure out how to solve the problem
  • Act 3: Solution applied, plus closing insights

A recurrent theme in the book is how you approach, structure and implement a great ending to your novel. Here’s a great tip he gives for generating a surprise ending.

Step one – have a story finish already in mind. Step two – put that aside, free associate for half an hour and come up with ten alternate endings (it doesn’t matter how silly or improbable they might be). Next, leave them to simmer in the back of your mind for a few days, then choose the top four. Finally, flesh them out and choose the best one as an added twist to your final chapter.

Finally, for the control freaks (and the Trekkies) out there, Bell offers ‘the BORG’ outline – for an all-encompassing plan.

1) Define your LOCK elements in one paragraph

2) Write your back cover copy – this will be your overall story guide

3) – 7) I’m not going to give everything away!

8) Have a break

9) Write novel

10) Let it cool

11) Revise, revise, revise

Heh, with the BORG plan behind you, any ‘resistance is futile’. But don’t take my word for it – check out Bell’s book for yourself. It’s a great guide for any aspiring writer.

Do you have a favourite system to plan out your books? I’d love to hear about it!



* Please note – this is an Amazon affiliate code.

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About the Author ()

Nick Buchan is currently writing his first novel ‘Leopard Tree’, available 2015. “A burnt-out police detective becomes embroiled in a child murder investigation while on African safari. Will this case send Detective Duffy over the edge?” Follow ‘Leopard Tree’ online at or

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