Testing the Idea–Is It Strong Enough to Make a Novel?

Whether we are traditionally published, indie published or self-published, we must connect with readers and tell a great story. Structure is the “delivery system” for our story, so it’s wise to make it as solid as possible. Many writers don’t have the luxury of writing full-time. Thus, it becomes critical for us to use time effectively. We don’t have time to waste writing 30,000 words only to realize our “great idea” cannot support the bulk of a three-act structure. Thus, we need to get really good at testing our ideas.

I assume that most of you reading this aspire to be great novelists. Novels are only one form of writing and, truth be told, they aren’t for everyone. Stringing together 60-100,000 words and keeping conflict on every page while delivering a story that makes sense on an intuitive level to the reader is no easy task. That said, all novels begin with an idea. But how do we know if our idea has what it takes to make a great novel?

Many new writers start out with nothing more than a mental snippet, a flash of a scene or a nugget of an idea, and then they take off writing in hopes that seed will germinate into a cohesive novel. Yeah…um, no. In my novel writers critique group, we have experienced first-hand that not all ideas are strong enough to sustain 60,000 or more words.

Think of your core idea as the ground where you will eventually build your structure. Novels, being very large structures, require firm ground. So how do you know if the idea you have is strong enough? Good question. Today we will discuss the fundamental elements of great novels. If your core idea can somehow be framed over these parts, you are likely on a good path.

James Scott Bell in his book Plot & Structure (which I highly highly, highly recommend, by the way) employs what he calls the LOCK system. When you get the first glimmer of the story you long to tell, the idea that is going to keep you going for months of researching, writing, revisions and eventually submissions, it is wise to test its integrity. The LOCK system is one method we will discuss today.

Lead Objective Conflict Knockout… or, LOCK

LEAD

First, we must have a sympathetic and compelling character. It is critical to have a protagonist that the reader will be able to relate to. Our characters must have admirable strengths and relatable weaknesses. Many new writers stray to extremes with protagonists, and offer up characters that are either too perfect or too flawed.

Perfect people are boring and unlikable and they lack any room to grow. Perfect characters are no different. New writers are often insecure and our protagonists are us…well, the perfect version of us anyway. Our heroines are tall and thin and speak ten languages and have genius IQs and rescue kittens in their free time…and no one likes them. Seriously.

Think about it for a moment. Why do so many people demonize women like Angelina Jolie or Martha Stewart? Because most of us feel very insecure around women like these. They show us where we are lacking, and so we don’t like them. Most of us cannot wrap our minds around what it is like to be too beautiful or have zillions of dollars or the free time to carve pumpkins into sculptures while making our own curtains from recycled prom dresses. These individuals fascinate us with their “perfection,” yet we secretly wait for them to trip up so we can revel in their failure–I knew it! She isn’t perfect!

That’s why STAR Magazine can sell hundreds of thousands of tabloids with the promise of showing us that Angelina Jolie has cellulite. We want to tear her down and make her human. Not the best way to start out with your protagonist. If we make her too perfect, readers will revel in her destruction. Bad juju. We need readers to rally to her team, to like her and want to cheer for her to the end. How do we do this? Give her flaws, and humanize her.

Bridget Jones and Forrest Gump are two great examples. We can all relate to not being the prettiest or the smartest and so these characters are easy to love and root for. What if you are writing a thriller or a suspense, something that generally has a cast of uber-perfect people? Give them flaws. Perfect characters are passé. Don’t believe me? Watch the new James Bond movies, and contrast Daniel Craig with William Moore.

Now, to look at the other side of the spectrum. Often to avoid the cliched “too perfect” charater, an author will stray too far to the other end of extremes. The brooding dark protagonist is tough to pull off. In life, we avoid these unpleasant people, so why would we want to dedicate our free time to caring about them? Oh, but the author will often defend, “But he is redeemed in the end.” Yeah, but you’re expecting readers to spend ten hours (average time to read a novel) with someone they don’t like. Tall order.

To quote mega-agent, Donald Maas (The Fire in the Fiction):

Wounded heroes and heroines are easy to overdo. Too much baggage and angst isn’t exactly a party invitation for one’s readers. What’s the best balance? And which comes first, the strength or the humility? It doesn’t matter. What’s important is that one is quickly followed by the other.

Objective

Your protagonist MUST have a clear objective. There are many times I go to conferences and I see all these excited writers who are all dying to talk to an agent. When I ask, “So what’s your book about?” I often get something akin to, “Well, there is this girl and she has powers, but she didn’t know she had powers, because, see. Hold on. Okay, her mother was a fairy queen and she fell in love with a werewolf, but werewolves in my book are different. Anyway she has a boyfriend in high school.”

Huh?

Your protagonist must have ONE BIG ACTIVE GOAL. Yes, even literary pieces.

Don’t believe me? Okay. Here’s a good example. The movie Fried Green Tomatoes very easily could have been just a collection of some old lady’s stories that helps our present-day protagonist (Evelyn Couch) bide the time while she waits for her husband to finish the visit with his mother, but that is far from the case.

Evelyn is having trouble in her marriage, and no one seems to take her seriously. While in a nursing home visiting relatives, she meets Ninny Threadgoode, an outgoing old woman, who tells her the story of Idgie Threadgoode, a young woman in 1920′s Alabama. Through Idgie’s inspiring life, Evelyn learns to be more assertive and builds a lasting friendship of her own with Ninny (per IMDB).

Learning to be assertive is an active goal. Building is an active verb. Gaining the self-confidence to make your own friends shows a change has occurred, a metamorphosis.

Oh, but Kristen, that’s a movie. Novels are different.

Um…not really. I use movies as examples of storytelling because it saves time. But, here is an example in the world of literary fiction to make you feel better that I am steering you down the correct path.

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan could have been just a collection of tales about three generations of Chinese women, but they weren’t. There was an active goal to all of these stories. The mothers left China in hopes they could change the future for their daughters, and yet the old cycles, despite all their good intentions, repeat themselves and echo the same pain in the lives of their daughters. Actually the protagonist in the book is the collective–The Joy Luck Club.

The stories propel the living members of the Joy Luck Club toward the active goal of finding courage to change the patterns of the past. The mothers seek forgiveness and the daughters struggle for freedom, but each is actively searching and eventually finds something tangible.

We will discuss this in more detail later, but keep in mind that running away from something or avoiding something is a passive goal. Not good material for novels. Novels require active goals…even you literary folk ;) .

Conflict

Once you get an idea of what your protagonist’s end goal is, you need to crush his dream of ever reaching it (well, until the end, of course). Remember in March we talked about the Big Boss Troublemaker. Generally (in genre novels especially), it is the BBT is who’s agenda will drive the protagonist’s actions until almost the end. Your protagonist will be reacting for most of the novel. It is generally after the darkest moment that the protagonist rallies courage, allies, hidden strength and suddenly will be proactive.

Riddick, for most of the story, is reacting to the Lord Marshal’s agenda. Riddick’s goal is to defeat the BBT, but there are all kinds of disasters and setbacks along the way. Logical disasters are birthed from good plotting. One of the reasons I am a huge fan of doing some plotting ahead of time is that it will be far easier for you to come up with set-backs and disasters that make sense.

There is a scene from the Mel Brooks film Blazing Saddles that I just LOVE. The prime villain, Hedley Lamarr, is interviewing scoundrels to go attack a town he wants to destroy so that he can build the railroad through it. There are all kinds of bad guys standing in line to give their CV.

Hedley Lamar: Qualifications?

Applicant: Rape, murder, arson, and rape.

Hedley Lamarr: You said rape twice.

Applicant: I like rape.

This sequence gets quoted quite a lot in my workshop. Why? Because there are many new writers who, upon noticing doldrums in their novel, will insert a rape scene.

I am not making this up.

And if I hadn’t seen it so many times in my career, I wouldn’t have brought it up. We can chuckle, but this is fairly common to the new writer, just as it is common for children to write the letter “c” backwards. It is a heavy-handed attempt by a new writer who hasn’t yet developed plotting skills to raise the stakes and tension. Robberies, rapes, car chases and dead bodies are justifiable conflict, if they genuinely relate to the story. Otherwise, it’s contrived and awkward.

Knockout

So your novel has thrust a likable, relatable protagonist into a collision course with the Big Boss Troublemaker. The Big Boss Battle must deliver all you (the writer) have been promising. Endings tie up all loose ends and sub-plots and, if we have done our job, will leave the reader a feeling of resonance.

Your protagonist MUST face down the BBT. No fighting through proxies. Darth (Annakin) had to face the Emperor. Same in literary works. Evelyn Couch had to stand up to her husband and her monster of a mother-in-law. She couldn’t send in Ninny Threadgoode to do it for her. In the movie’s climactic scene, Evelyn employs the “Jedi skills” she learned from stories about Idgy. Her Jedi skills are confidence and self-respect, and she uses them to defeat her oppressors by refusing to take any more of their…shenanigans.

So when you get that nugget of an idea and think, Hmm. THAT is my novel. Try using Bell’s LOCK system. Ask yourself:

Can I cast a LEAD who is relatable and likable?

Is this OBJECTIVE something that will keep readers interested for 60-100,000 words?

Can I create a BBT and opposition force capable of generating plenty of CONFLICT to keep my lead from her objective?

Does this story problem lend itself to a KNOCKOUT ending?

This is just a taste of the good stuff that James Scott Bell has to offer in Plot & Structure so I recommend buying a copy for your writing library. Bell makes plotting simple. I was a die-hard pantser (writer who writes by the seat of her pants) and Bell helped me learn to plot, yet still retain the pantser spontaneity.

What are the biggest problems you guys have when it comes to developing your ideas? What are some setbacks you have faced? Do you guys have any recommendations for resources? Or, feel free to commiserate and laugh about all the good ideas that went oh so wrong.

I love hearing from you! And to prove it and show my love, for the month of July, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of June I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Note: I am keeping all the names for a final GRAND, GRAND PRIZE of 30 Pages (To be announced) OR a blog diagnostic. I look at your blog and give feedback to improve it. For now, I will draw weekly for 5 page edit, monthly for 15 page edit.

Last Week’s Winner of 5 page critique is Stella Deleuze. Please send 1250 word Word document to kristen at kristen lamb dot org.

In the meantime, I hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left over to write more great books! I am here to change your approach, not your personality.

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  1. #1 by Patricia Yager Delagrange on July 18, 2011 - 3:39 pm

    Thank you so much for this. It’s a great way to think before starting a new novel. I’m in the beginning on the thought process for my third book and these are great tips for tackling this one.
    Patti

  2. #2 by Anne-Mhairi Simpson on July 18, 2011 - 3:39 pm

    I have to admit, having just left Readercon, I’ve had a bunch of things occur to me that would make my book much stronger. It’s not too bad as it is, but I haven’t gone deeply enough – I need more conflict, more depth of character and more crushing of dreams. Right now it’s popcorn and I want it to be steak.

  3. #3 by Brooke Johnson on July 18, 2011 - 3:43 pm

    I’ve learned many times over that some ideas aren’t meant to be novels, and sometimes they’re not meant to be my novels.

    I have Bell’s Plot & Structure on my TBR list, once I finish my current novel, I plan on reading several craft books (I don’t like reading them while writing. They trip me up). The LOCK concept is pretty simple, and I look forward to reading more.

    What you say about the rape scenes made me blush a bit. My first novel (poor thing) had an almost-rape scene around three-quarters of the way through. I can reason that it makes sense in context, but now that you say that, it makes me think that maybe I was using a gimmick to increase conflict. And I’m even more embarrassed to say that my current novel has an almost-rape scene, which I think is also logical in context, but maybe I need to dig deeper and see if it really is necessary.

    • #4 by peter on December 18, 2012 - 1:39 am

      Yes I respect much of what was written and agree but this should be revoked if a new BBT comes around in the same frame.

  4. #5 by Leanne Shirtliffe on July 18, 2011 - 3:45 pm

    I love how your synapses fire, pulling in references to movies and books. The Joy Luck Club one caught me since I’m a non-fiction writer. Can I apply Bell’s LOCK check to a memoir? I have a number of memoir ideas swimming right now (treading water might be the apt metaphor). I purchased Bell’s Plot & Structure for my Kindle (only $2.99!), but have yet to dive into it because I’m (going to be) focusing on my current non-fiction project. But I’m glad I did. Also, if anyone has the opportunity to attend a James Scott Bell writing class at a conference, do it.

    And Angelina Jolie? I’d like to buy her a sandwich, with full fat mayo.

  5. #6 by Becka (StickyNoteStories) on July 18, 2011 - 3:45 pm

    I definitely need more conflict in one character’s arc, and am having trouble figuring out how to get it in there. If only I had plotted more!

    This is a great method of figuring out if the story will work. Wish I had read it seven books ago! ;P

  6. #7 by Leanne D. Baldwin on July 18, 2011 - 3:47 pm

    >>Perfect characters are passé. Don’t believe me? Watch the new James Bond movies, and contrast Daniel Craig with William Moore.<<

    You do mean Roger Moore, right?🙂

    Good post. This sounds like a really good way to test novel ideas.

    • #8 by Author Kristen Lamb on July 18, 2011 - 4:05 pm

      Ack! Yep…that guy. Sorry. It’s Monday. Will go fix. Good catch.

  7. #9 by educlaytion on July 18, 2011 - 3:50 pm

    Interesting that you talk about this today. I just spent days knocking out a NF proposal and introduction. During the process, I realized I had 2-3 more chapters than I knew at first. But then I started thinking about what was to be a follow up book idea. Could that idea really just be a chapter in this current book? Still not sure. LOCK is designed for fiction, but I dig it. In the meantime, I’m going to keep playing around with the proposal because writing it turned out to be way more helpful to the overall project than I ever expected.

  8. #10 by RDoug on July 18, 2011 - 3:57 pm

    In five (soon to be six) completed novels, I’ve yet to do a rape scene.

    I must be doing something right? I certainly hope so.

    As for “William” Moore, I wish I could forget what-his-name’s rather disastrous outings as OO7 as well. ;o) There really is no comparison to the vastly superior performance of Daniel Craig, especially in his first Bond picture Casino Royale. This was the way Ian Fleming originally envisioned his character in the earliest novels, and it worked just oh so well on the big screen.

  9. #11 by Patrick Thunstrom on July 18, 2011 - 4:23 pm

    I’ve got Plot and Structure on my kindle, but haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. I like the LOCK system, but it’s kind of baked into all the other methods of development I’ve learned. Perhaps proof of its elemental nature?

  10. #12 by Shelly Brown on July 18, 2011 - 4:27 pm

    This is awesome! Thanks for the tips. I agree that you’ve got to get a tight story early and it will save you DAYS later! Thanks🙂

  11. #13 by alicamckennajohnson on July 18, 2011 - 4:34 pm

    Great information!! I will be using this, writting down the book name right now.

  12. #14 by Xandra James on July 18, 2011 - 4:42 pm

    Interesting post!

    I’m usually okay with the storyline/characters in general until I go to write it and then find I have a sagging middle but by trying not to make it not completely suck, I can fall into the ‘conflict for the sake of conflict’ trap… never ending cycle!!

    The book you mentioned is on my tbr pile – another I recommend wholeheartedly is Jack Bickham’s Scene & Structure… helped me out hugely🙂

  13. #15 by Sal Davis on July 18, 2011 - 4:53 pm

    LOCK – I’ll definitely remember that! I’m at the planning stage for a historical novel where the outcome [bad] is set in stone and the primary objective is to remain alive. Additional objectives would make life more interesting for the protagonists.

    I saw all the Bonds as they came along and Daniel Craig gets my vote for being the closest to the character in the book. What a lovely thug!

  14. #16 by Lynn Kelley on July 18, 2011 - 6:16 pm

    Wow, what a helpful post, Kristen. Sure brings back memories of all the mistakes I’ve made along the way, starting with my first attempt at a novel – just jumping in and writing scenes. It was a learning-tool novel and never went anywhere. Now, when I read about rape scenes and how they’re a common newbie mistake, my eyes bugged out. I had to rethink that scene. It’s essential to my novel and has to stay, but it was good to take the time and evaluate it. I agree that James Scott Bell’s PLOT & STRUCTURE is an excellent book. Amazon had a great deal on it last month, only $1.99 for the Kindle version, and then I saw a tweet that Barnes & Noble was offering the same deal on their Nook. What a bargain. I’m forwarding this post on to others. Definitely worth all novel writers’ time to read this post. Thanks!

  15. #17 by Sonia G Medeiros on July 18, 2011 - 7:09 pm

    I’m almost finished with Story Engineering (been working through it slowly so that I can apply its goodies to my MIP outline). I guess I’ll have to add Plot and Structure to the reading list too. Boy…that list just keeps getting longer and longer.😀

  16. #18 by Natalie Wright on July 18, 2011 - 7:35 pm

    Thank you for another great post. I purchased Bell’s book after I had first draft of first novel and it was very useful to read before I began revisions. Bell doesn’t break the mold about plot, but he delivers it in a very concise, easy to apply way. I’ve read 3 other books on plot and Bell’s book is the one I go to again and again. For my second novel, I applied “LOCK” from the beginning for the outline and it has made it much easier writing. I agree and highly recommend that book.

  17. #19 by marykateleahy on July 18, 2011 - 9:01 pm

    Love the post! LOCK method is such a good idea, but I had never thought of it in those terms before. But I have had novel ideas where I think, no, that isn’t enough for a novel because I don’t have enough juice in the story. In which case I think about reworking it into a smaller format, or tossing it into my mental trunk, to be examined later.

    As to the rape scenes, I think like anything else when they are legitimately part of the plot they can make for a very powerful story. But if they are just thrown in to fill up a few pages the reader can tell, and it cheapens the whole work. I wonder why rape scenes in particular are thrown in as filler/attempts at plot? Maybe because with a car chase/ bank robbery/ etc you need cars and banks, but for a rape scene you only need human beings? That would be an interesting discussion on it’s own, the frequency of rape in novels, like in old school romance.

    • #20 by Athena Grayson on July 21, 2011 - 5:06 pm

      Rape in old-school romance is more often than not closer to “forced seduction” – heroine must be drawn into or coerced into acting against her self- and culturally-imposed mores (which must, by nature of her virtue as the heroine, center around her virtue). Of course, that’s only if the rape is done by the hero–rape in real life is about power, whereas the forced-seduction version in old-school romances is about giving the heroine a means to overcome the split-personality ideal of her needing to be both virgin and temptress at the same time.

      I will have to see if I can dig up the articles I read on it several years ago, that talked about the subtext of forced seduction and its place in old-school romances. It’s fascinating reading because it not only addressed what it meant in the novels, but what it meant about the people reading and writing them at the time.

  18. #21 by Maryann Miller on July 18, 2011 - 9:10 pm

    Wow, this is great. A whole writer’s workshop in one blog. Thanks so much.

  19. #22 by Gene Lempp on July 18, 2011 - 9:22 pm

    I love the LOCK principle and have been using it since reading James’ Plot & Structure a few months ago. LOCK combines well with other structure ideas as well, such as Larry Brooks Milestones (Story Engineering), Blake Snyder’s Beats (Save the Cat) and Jack M. Bickham’s Scene & Sequence ideas (Scene & Structure).

    Great post, Kristen!

  20. #23 by Piper Bayard on July 18, 2011 - 9:57 pm

    Awesome post, Kristen. I’d love to hear your antag/protag/lock analysis of The Red Violin. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.🙂

  21. #24 by catwoods on July 18, 2011 - 11:13 pm

    Wonderful post on many levels. I’ve heard too many good things about the LOCK system not to give it a try. Thanks for bringing it to the forefront right now.

  22. #25 by Evergreena on July 19, 2011 - 12:23 am

    I love Plot & Structure. When I first picked it up, I zoomed through it like I was reading a great novel. Then I went back to the beginning and read it again, this time with a pencil in hand, to take notes. It’s that good.

    Another thing that has helped me immensely with story structure is Randy Ingermanson’s “Snowflake method.” He’s got it online somewhere, and whenever I’m brainstorming up a new story, I print out his article and carry it around with me while I think of how my scattered ideas might fall into place. His method of outlining really helped me learn how to finish a novel.

    Now, I think I’m getting the hang of story structure. I’m starting to do less outlining ahead of time, and more SOP writing. It’s a little scary. I’ve come full circle. I started out as a pantser, and failed miserably at finishing anything. Then I wrote novels with outlines for awhile, and actually completed a few of them, but they were lacking some of the “magic” of the first novel I attempted. Now I’m back to SOP, but keeping the elements of structure in my mind as I start (and throughout the entire writing process). I think I’m starting to get in the groove… 😀

  23. #26 by Tamara LeBlanc on July 19, 2011 - 12:36 am

    I am a HUGE, HUGE fan of Donald Maas. I literally just finished the Fire in Fiction, highlighted loads of stuff, wrote notes, and utilized his teachings in my WIP. I also love his, Writing the Breakout Novel book and workbook as well. He’s fantastic in every way. I bow to his infinitely wise brain nearly as much as I bow to yours;)
    On the same note, so far, reading Plot & Structure has been just as informative. I’m about halfway through and I’ve learned so much already, so it’s funny you brought both books up. They are both fabulous resources.
    I also read another one a few months ago, Break Into Fiction, by Mary Buckham and Diana Love. I finished it in one day. It has templates that you can write on and I filled every inch of space on them. BIF utilizes a power plotting method that helps give depth and emotion to a story, but it doesn’t forget to teach about goal, motivation conflict either. So it covers all the bases.
    There are so many excellent resource books out there. I’m so glad you link them so that the writers that don’t know about them can benefit from them too.
    Thank you so much for your wisdom!!
    Have a great evening,
    Tamara

  24. #27 by Tahlia Newland on July 19, 2011 - 1:01 am

    I would add that your story has to be inspiring enough and a worthwhile enough story for you to keep going through the seemingly endless rewrites and edits required to bring it to fruition. If it’s too much like everything else out there, why bother?

  25. #28 by Natalie C. Markey on July 19, 2011 - 2:20 am

    This was a great post. I only wish I had read it a year and a half earlier. After much revision and re-planning, my book (I hope) holds up to this. We will see🙂 Anyway, moving forward from the much needed learning experience, this is wonderful information.

    Thanks Kristin!

    Natalie

  26. #29 by Shari Green on July 19, 2011 - 3:39 am

    I always seem to find just what I need when I drop by your blog. I should def come more often, lol! Right now, I’m daydreaming about a new story idea, and being reminded of LOCK right now probably saved me from jumping into my story too soon. Thank you!🙂

  27. #30 by Katie Ganshert on July 19, 2011 - 12:04 pm

    I love Jim Bell’s LOCK system and I love the way you’ve broken it down here. Funny you mentioned The Joy Luck Club – because that’s the book I’m listening to right now on audio for the book club I’m in.

    Another interesting story is the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (awesome book!). It’s told via letters. All letters. An entire novel of letters. But somehow, the author manages to give us a strong, likable Lead and a clear objective and great conflict throughout the entire narrative.

  28. #31 by Renée A. Schuls-Jacobson on July 19, 2011 - 2:15 pm

    Okay Kristin. I feel really confident about everything I’ve got going — except for my KNOCKOUT. How many books have an ending where I go “meh.” I don’t want to be “meh,” but I can feel myself hedging at the ending. I am trying to figure out is it my fear of writing a bad ending? Is it my fear of straying too far from the Truth? Of hurting people? Is it my fear of not being able to deliver an ending that will match the rest of the story?

    I actually have alternate endings in mind. (Here is where I am wishing I had you on speed dial. I need someone to tell me which ending to go with. And why.) They both feel slightly wrong. I don’t want to be “meh.” But I don’t want to start querying a piece that isn’t as great as it could be.

    Such a great piece of writing. Thank you.

  29. #32 by Tiffany A White on July 19, 2011 - 8:56 pm

    Another great way to test your novel is to have a great writing group. 🙂

  30. #33 by Jami Gold on July 20, 2011 - 4:33 pm

    Great post! I’ll have to remember that LOCK approach. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  31. #34 by Leigh Smith on July 21, 2011 - 1:52 pm

    I love this post. I wish I had read it a few months ago before I wrote 40k, then realized it just wasn’t working. I just started a new novel, same premise, different plot. Perhaps, since I’m only about 4k into this one I should take a step back and give it the ol’ LOCK once over. Then maybe I won’t have to write 40k before I realize it’s just not going to happen. Perfect post, perfect timing (the second time around).

  32. #35 by Melinda Collins on July 21, 2011 - 4:02 pm

    Love this post! Thank you for sharing the LOCK approach! I will have to keep that in mind.

    Whenever I sit down to start a new story, the basis normally does come from a small scene that was in my head. Whether that scene is the opening, somewhere in the middle, or at the end, it’s there and it’s up to me to add in the extra plot elements to make it a stronger plot/idea that’s worthy of a 60-100,000 novel. And like you said, sometimes, even with all of the added plot elements, it’s still not strong enough to write an entire book on, so I write as much as possible then store it away on the bookshelf. Never know when you might come back to it in the future with better ideas!🙂

  33. #36 by Anthea on July 21, 2011 - 10:01 pm

    I’ve just started following your blog recently Kirsten and, as someone about to start off on the intrepid adventure of their first novel, am really enjoying your writing posts like this especially. So, thank you!

  34. #37 by Marilag Lubag on July 22, 2011 - 8:17 am

    About the lead, I myself get bored if I made my characters too perfect. Of course, when we’re starting, our characters are bound to be perfect–that’s just how we project our desires in them. As we grow as a writer, we’ll realize that perfect characters are boring. Too predictable. Too stale.

    I love Angelina Jolie. She and I share most point of view when it comes to life. However, people find her weird. She’s beautiful but she doesn’t fit the convention. I mean, who would adopt kids from all over the world and then not celebrate Thanksgiving since they oppressed the native Americans? I think she’s one of the most misunderstood people around. Maybe she’s not so perfect–just human.

  35. #38 by dmmaster42 on July 29, 2011 - 4:51 pm

    This is a really great article. Thanks! It’s really helped me to make some structural decisions of the first draft of my novel after I looked back at some of the major events in it at the end.

  36. #39 by Jonathan Hopkins on July 29, 2011 - 4:55 pm

    Nice post. It’s always worth being reminded of the importance of all these things, which often get lost in a new plot idea. And oddly enough one of the two MCs in my series of novels is Joshua Lock.

  37. #40 by Tony McFadden on July 29, 2011 - 11:19 pm

    Excellent post.

    The first book I wrote had the L, O and C, but no K. Somebody else rescued the hero. Fortunately a wise person pointed out that heroes are heroes because *they* do the rescuing and I managed a rewrite of the last act that works much better than the original.

    Now, when starting a new book like I am today, I spend a month or so before writing the opening sentence making sure the elements you mention are satisfied, as are the proper structure elements (first and second plot points, pinch points, context shift at the mit-point — all that great and important stuff).

    Thanks for this.

  38. #41 by D.J. Kirkby on July 30, 2011 - 7:45 am

    Thank you so mcuh for this….it may be the kick in the pants I have needed for a few months. Going to spend the day thinking about whether there is any LOCK in my urge to re-write the first draft of novel two.

  39. #42 by Michele Shaw on August 1, 2011 - 12:30 pm

    This a simple approach that is a powerhouse in disguise. What a great way to find out if I’ve really got something going. I’ve been getting tons of ideas lately and jotting them down, but now I really want to see which one has the oomph to be my next novel by using this technique. Thanks, Kristen!

  40. #43 by Carol Federlin Baldwin on June 17, 2014 - 1:12 pm

    I just found this blog. Great stuff! I’m teaching a writing workshop and was looking for a post on “is my idea big enough?” and this fits the bill. thanks–I’ll link to it!

  41. #44 by harry james on August 10, 2015 - 6:52 am

    Hey ! Thank you so much for this. It’s a great way to think before starting a new novel. This is a really great article…..it may be the kick in the pants I have needed for a few months.

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