Plotting and Structure of Novels

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by Brenda Taylor

Plotting novels is a chore for me, because I am a panster by nature. Instead of sitting for a great length of time thinking, plotting, and structuring a story, I want to write and let the storyline fall where it may. I’ve learned, however, my panster method is not the best way. It leaves too much to chance and makes the story seem messy. Readers are disappointed when a novel doesn’t follow certain patterns of organization. Plotting takes discipline. I suppose in my heart of hearts, I’m an undisciplined writer who must make a special effort to control the impulse to let the chips fall where they may.

Following are two simple methods for plotting and structuring a novel. They are only outlines. Elements may be added as needed, but outlines help begin the thought process for planning and organizing a story.

The first is very simple and I call it, the Classic Plot Structure. When all the elements and parts are added to the outline, a storyline takes form.

The Classic Plot Structure:

. Plunge your main character (lead/hero/heroine) into terrible trouble as soon as possible.

The definition of “terrible trouble” differs depending on your genre. For a thriller it may mean your hero is hanging from his fingernails from a railroad trestle. For a cozy romance, it may mean your heroine must choose between two seemingly perfect suitors, each of whom harbors a dark secret.

. Everything your character does to get out of the trouble makes it only worse.

The complications must be logical and grow increasingly bad until…

. The lead’s predicament appears entirely hopeless.

. Finally, because of what the conflict has taught the character from the beginning, your lead rises to the occasion and battles out of the trouble, meets the challenge, accomplishes the quest, or completes the journey.

Second is the LOCK system by James Scott Bell.

The LOCK System:

Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot That Grips Readers from Start to Finish. James Scott Bell. Writer’s Digest Books. 2004

James Scott Bell created the LOCK system of organizing a story after analyzing hundreds of novel plots. He developed the following mnemonic to represent his plotting method.






Bell says you must have a compelling lead character—somebody the reader will want to follow throughout the story.

I usually go to my list of hero and heroine descriptions, find one who fits the storyline, then answer a list of questions about the character.


The lead character needs an objective—a want, or desire. We often use the term,  ‘goal’

Objective is the driving force of fiction. It generates forward motion and keeps the Lead from just sitting around. ~ James Scott Bell.

Bell says that there are two types of objectives :

to get something

to get away from something

I also add—to take something away from somebody.

You may have more objectives to add.


The lead character is on his way to realizing his objective but must confront opposing forces. We often term this as ‘conflict’ from an antagonistic force.

Opposition from characters and outside forces brings your story fully to life. ~ James Scott Bell.

Bell also has a fine way of explaining this confrontation:

Get your protagonist up a tree

Throw rocks at him

Then get him down.

I like to say—Get your protagonist in a bad place, make it badder, make it more badder, then make things better.


Knockout is the term Bell uses for the big fight or satisfying climax that any reader wants from the story.

A Quick Plotting Formula using LOCK: from Writeworld

Write a quick plot for your current story idea. Use four lines, one for each element of LOCK.

My Lead is a _______.

His/Her Objective is to _________.

She is Confronted by _______ who opposes her because__________.

The ending will be a Knockout because__________.

Brenda Taylor and her husband make their home in beautiful East Texas where they enjoy spending time with family and friends, traveling, and working in Bethabara Faith Ministry, Inc. She crafts stories about the extraordinary lives of ordinary people in her favorite place overlooking bird feeders, bird houses, and a variety of blooming trees and flowers. She sincerely thanks all who purchase and read her books. Her desire is that the message in each book will touch the heart of the reader as it did hers in the writing. Contact Brenda on her website, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Comments 0

  1. Thank you ACFW for hosting me on your blog and thank you ladies for visiting. I’m between stories at present, so I’m reviewing plotting and structuring techniques, trying to get my undisciplined thought processes under control.

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