Category Archives: craft books

Blueprint Series Part 3: LOCK

If you’ve just arrived, I’m doing this series explaining the story blueprint I use. I’ve got a link to the file on my download page–see tab above. Click here for Part 1.

So today we’re working on your big ol’ story climax.

Step 3: LOCK

LOCK- Lead, Objective, Conflict, Knock-out

  1. What do you know about the climax of the story?
  2. How does the ending deliver a knock-out experience?
  3. How does the ending solve the story problem?
  4. How are the hero and heroine the catalyst for solving the story problem?

That nifty acronym is one I got out of a book called Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell. The most important thing I got out of this book was the idea of knowing what the ending is going be, how the story problem will be solved, how the protagonist is going to be the one to solve it. Yeah, I know, more obvious. What I really needed, however, was the knock to the head that said: a kick-ass ending would be really good here.

So, much like GMC (see previous post), LOCK is a whole sotory concept with a similar structure. You have:

A Lead (character)

who has an Objective (goal)

who meets with a Conflict

an delivers a Knock-Out win at the end.

Now, this concept helped me a lot because I had been, to that point, very linear in my thinking. I had some vague idea of what the ending would be, or at least some of what it would have to entail, but I never knew how exactly it would come about. So in a sense I was never really writing towards it. And that caused me problems.

So that’s why we’re here at this stage in the process. Because once I have a Goal that’s Motivated, and I know what’s going to provide my character(s) with Conflict, I want to go right to thinking about how they’re going to solve it. How is my team going to provide Big Bad with the smack-down he so richly deserves. I’ll admit that I’m still not great at knowing the details, and sometimes my notes are: There’s a fight, they win, bad guy is arrested–or whatever the ending is. Some of the specifics will always be saved for the end.

The important thing to me is knowing that the ending in my head has something to do with may goal at the beginning, and that it will happen as a result of my characters actions and what they have learned over the course of the story, and not as the result of some deus ex machina BS. It could also be that my ending has little to do with the beginning goal, but in that case, this is the time to be thinking about the goal changes and plot twists that will get me from A to B.

If my heroine is obviously the main character and she’s the one who’s got the issue with the villain, I certainly don’t want to plan an ending in which she sits idly by and watches the hero mop the floor with him. L-A-M-E. If they’re going to be working together, thinking about the ending at this stage allows me to think about how I’m going to work their tag-team on the villain, and what I’m going to have to set up in advance in order to make that satisfying.

Yesterday’s post was pretty long, so I’m ending here today and we’ll continue Monday with thinking about your Story World.


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Blueprint Series Part 2: GMC

It’s not the first time I’ve talked about it, and it won’t be the last. Suck it up and deal.

(Aside: Oh, if you’ve just arrived, I’m doing this series explaining the story blueprint I use. I’ve got a link to the file on my download page–see tab above. Click here for Part 1.)

Theory: A story is about

a character,

who has a goal,

because he is motivated by something,

but faces a conflict.

Easy-peasy and seems pretty obvious, right? And you’d wonder that someone could write a whole book on this very simple, obvious thing. Enter Debra Dixon and her book, Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. It’s awesome. It should be on your shelf. It covers everything you could ever need to know about GMC in a story–which, it turns out, is a lot more than what I just said above. There’s internal vs. external GMC, there are multiple levels from an overarching, whole-story type GMC to the Dwight Swain-esque GMC* of each and every scene.

But today we’re dealing with the very most basic story goals of the main characters. Remember in Step 1, where we talked briefly about the “story problem”? That goal. What is it the hero is trying to get? What’s his focus? What is his external goal, meaning something he can go out and get, as opposed to some feeling he wants to change within or about himself. Know what that is, why he wants it, and what’s standing in his way, and you’ve got yourself a story.

Step 2a: External GMC

Goal, Motivation, Conflict


  1. Starting at the beginning of part 2, what is the hero’s external GMC?
  2. Starting at the beginning of part 2, what is the heroine’s external GMC?
  3. What do you know about the antagonistic force in the story?

Now, since I write romance, there’s pretty much always going to be a hero and a heroine. Even when I try not to go that way, I just do. If you only need one main character slot, then go for it. If you want to use one of those slots for a very important supporting character whose GMC will affect your protagonist or who will carry a subplot, go for it. Write out that GMC as a sentence or two with the basic format: Character wants/needs [goal], because [motivation], but [conflict].

Now the antagonistic force… This may be an antagonist character, a villain, a sibling, a competitor. Or it may be something else, a force of nature, a storm, a mountain, a circumstance like poverty what-have-you. So I’m not going to say you need to write that in terms of GMC because you’re going to argue, Your Honor, the mountain didn’t mean to do it! (Even though it’s sitting there all smug like that.) But if you can, you’ll want to, and if you can’t, don’t. The point is that your characters don’t exist in a vacuum, and whatever conflict the protagonist faces, it’s brought on by something or someone. You need to be developing an awareness of what or who that is and how it will impact the hero in his quest for his goal.

Step 2b: Character Arc

  1. What does the hero lack or what is his skewed view of the world? What lesson does he need to learn over the course of the story and how will that be achieved?
  2. What is it that will allow the hero to learn his story lesson?
  3. What are some ideas for scenes, events, etc, that will provide the teaching moments the hero needs?
  4. What does the heroine lack or what is her skewed view of the world? What lesson does she need to learn over the course of the story and how will that be achieved?
  5. What is it that will allow the heroine to learn her story lesson?
  6. What are some ideas for scenes, events, etc, that will provide the teaching moments the heroine needs?

Character Arc is basically Internal GMC. It’s that thing that the character gets out of the story internally. The lesson they learn, the sense of self restored, etc. It’s some change that occurs entirely within the character. Now to me, this is pretty important. If the events I just lived through with the character were not enough to affect some kind of internal change, if he learned nothing, takes away nothing from the experience, what am I supposed to take away? Why did I bother? It doesn’t have to be huge or life-altering, but character arc is one of those things that allow your story to resonate in the heart of the reader. Please don’t blow it off.

Now the problem I’ve had with the concept of character arc as GMC is that sometimes it’s not. Because you’re going to look at it and say: well, yeah, my character may learn this lesson, but that certainly wasn’t a goal. He didn’t set out to become a better person, he just wanted to find the treasure. And that’s cool. I agree. That’s why I’ve tried to come up with a different way, different terms, to think about regarding internal GMC.

What I came up with was the notion that the hero has some internal lack. Some people call it a skewed world view, sometimes it’s a lesson to be learned. That’s what goes in the goal slot. It’s not his goal, it’s your goal as the writer, how you’re going to change the hero from the beginning to the end of this thing.

Then for the motivation slot, it wasn’t so much knowing why the hero needs to learn this. That’s often obvious. What’s less obvious is the how. What’s going to be the chink in his armor, the crack in the facade that will allow your brilliant fictional life-lessons to get in there and fester?

I mean, is he a Mr. Darcy, strutting around, knowing he’s it? And then, CRACK! something just blows his mind. Um, excuse me, did you just tell me no? But…but…I’m Mr. freakin’ Darcy! Well, yes, but you’re being a jackass. And suddenly the poor man has stop and reevaluate.

No, it’s not always just like that. Sometimes it’s just a matter of something getting under his skin. Something that keeps nagging at him. Something he keeps needing to follow. Obviously, as we’re talking about writing here, there are permutations galore. But your hero’s gone on like this for years, and he’s never started to change before. So what happens in your story that makes the difference for him?

Conflict sometimes translates to me as: stuff that happens. So into this slot I would put things that may happen in the story to affect this change. What kinds of teaching moments can I come up with to teach the hero his lesson?

That’s how I came up with my three Character Arc questions, and that’s how I answer them, for both my hero and heroine. You may not be ready to come up with all of this yet, and that’s fine. Remember that you can always come back and refine your answers later, as you learn more. Part of what may be holding you back in this section is that it works in with the big and important question: How Does it All End?

But that’s the subject of tomorrow’s discussion.

If you actually want more babble on my views on Character Arc, and Internal vs. External GMC, click here for another post.

*From Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain, nutshell version: in every scene a character has a goal, experiences a conflict, meets with disaster, from which he must then regroup and start over.


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Progress report: cards

When last I was here I talked about getting into the habit of using index cards– for quick notes, for organizing thoughts, and eventually for getting visual feel for a story.  Since I’ve got a lot of stuff in my head right now, I set a goal for 10 cards a day.

10 cards has been a good amount for me.  Not so many that I’m scribbling for hours, but enough so I feel like I’ve done something.  I now have 30 cards since Saturday.  A handful of them are from a different story that intrigues me, so it’s cool to be able to make some notes on that without jumping right into “sexy new book”.

Some of my cards are for scenes I can see and have a number of points jotted down.  Some are much more vague: need scene where X happens.  Some are plant cards that will probably be merged with another scene card later: need to plant idea Y that pays off later when…

I just started reading Characters, Emotion, and Viewpoint by Nancy Kress, so I will probably have some cards on character notes coming along this week.  I have a lot of character stuff written here and there and I don’t plan to copy that stuff to cards.  But I expect to have ideas about several characters in my world and it will be good to jot down notes someplace besides gmail to Kettle.

I’m really enjoying the craft books this year.  I just finished Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell (part of the same Write Great Fiction series).  Kettle bought that one for me for Christmas (I sent her GMC which I also ended up buying for myself), having heard good things about a few books in the series.  To me it was good enough and different enough from other craft books I’ve read or glanced through that I’m intrigued enough to continue in the series.  I should start a page of some reviews of these…

Anyway, a last quick note on the subjects of cards and P&S: At the end of the book, Bell likened building writing skills to building chess skills.  He suggested an exercise in which you read through a book for the pleasure of reading it.  Then you pick it apart, taking copious, scene-by-scene notes on index cards, noting down things that worked for you and didn’t, etc.  You’ll learn by doing the exercise, have the cards for later review, lay out the scene cards to see the structure of the novels, etc.  His exercise has 10 steps which I’m not going to wholesale copy for you (because that’s not nice) but that’s the gist of it.  He suggests doing this for 6 books over a 12-week period.  Time-consuming yes, but learning often is, and I’m intrigued.  I will try it for at least one and see how it goes.

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