WD Conference–Building the Perfect Plot

James Scott Bell gave an awesome craft presentation on building the perfect plot on Saturday at the Writer’s Digest Conference. He’s an electrifying speaker, who engages the listener with real world examples and walks you through his process for building plot.

The LOCK system

  • Lead–main character
    • Readers enter the story via the main character–they must bond with him
    • Fastest bond is created via vibrancy of plot–jeopardy/trouble
    • Don’t open with Happyland, where everything is going well. It bores the reader and turns them off
      • Reader needs to know there is something at stake for main character
        • Jeopardy
        • Hardship (not of character’s own making)
        • Inner conflict
        • Think High Noon with Grace Kelly or Rose Matter by Stephen King
        • Morality and vulnerability can make a character likeable
        • You want the reader to worry about your character
        • Readers care about characters that care about other people
          • “Pet the dog” or “Save the cat” axiom–the hero is in a vulnerable position  and chooses to care for someone weaker than himself
            • Think Dirty Harry or the Fugitive
            • Then have it lead to further trouble
    • The main character cannot be a wimp
  • Objective–main character must have one
    • Death at stake
      • Physical, professional or psychological
    • The objective can be something the main character is trying to get or get away from
  • Confrontation
    • Justify the opposition character
      • Best villain has some sympathy to them. All characters think they are justified
    • 2 dogs and 1 bone is a good plot
    • Requires a character that is stronger than main character
  • Knockout–the end of the story
    • Last chapter sells the next book
    • Need a satisfying ending
      • Inner and outer aspect to final battle
      • Inner=moral–character decide to do the right thing
      • Outer=conflict with other characters
    • Character gains something at a cost–there is a sacrifice made
      • May give up something they believe in
      • But after sacrifice there must be some reward
    • The ending must: satisfy the reader, not be predictable, answer questions, and leave reader going “Ah”
    • There is no one formula to build toward the ending
      • When he gets to the end, he will stew (take a walk and mull it over), brew (get a cup of coffee and think about next step), and do (go home and type it up)

The Three Acts

  • Readers have a three act story expectation
    • Always think about what the objective of the next scene is
    • Make sure there is a natural progression.
    • Usually the middle act is longer than Act I and Act II
  • Act I–Disturbance–something happens and the novel begins
    • In Act I, the characters are in an ordinary world and happy to stay there. They don’t want major change
  • Between Act I and II there is the first doorway of no return.  Something forces the main character into trouble of Act II and the door slams behind them
  • Act II is the main part of the story
  • Between Act II and Act III, there is a second doorway which enables the main character to get into the final battle/crisis/discovery/major setback

He closed with this important point: Formulas exist for a reason. THEY WORK. He gave this example: You wouldn’t want to make an omelette with a watermelon. To find out more about plotting, check out his book: Plot and Structure.

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7 Responses to WD Conference–Building the Perfect Plot

  1. berry says:

    He gave great advice. For any writer looking for help his book seems to be a good buy. There is so much to know and even more to learn. Great synopsis.

    • I like practical speakers. Where you walk away with more knowledge than you entered the room with. James Scott Bell is one of those speakers that makes information easily digestible. Glad you liked the notes. If you ever get the chance to hear him talk, GO! 🙂

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  3. Pete Denton says:

    This is really comprehensive advice. Always good to keep reading this type of advice so it starts to sink into your writing routine. Thanks.

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