Formulaic writing is done, because it works. There are guidelines that, when understood, will help you write a solid plot every single time. Those guidelines are part of LOCK, which stands for Lead, Objective, Confrontation and Knock-out. This system will serve you your entire writing career.
L – LEAD
Strong plots start off with an interesting lead character. He is so compelling that we just can’t put the book down, too curious to see what happens to him and more importantly, how he deals with it. This lead character can be sympathetic but doesn’t have to be. An example of what would make a character compelling is using the car wreck dynamic. We naturally can’t resist looking away when fully drawn humans make an unalterable mess of their lives.
O – OBJECTIVE
A character has ambitions, desires, wants, objectives. Objectives can be physical or psychological. It is the driving force that motivates his behaviour. This boils down to two categories, getting something or getting away from something. This objective is essential to the well-being of the character. This can be by relying on this objective in order for characters to stay alive, however it doesn’t need to be that dramatic. It can also be crucial to the lead’s sense of well-being. A solid plot has a lead character with one dominant objective.
C – CONFRONTATION
So now you have your lead character and he has his main objective, now what? Now there is a path of obstacles in his way of achieving that objective. Opposition from outside forces and other characters brings the story to life. Nothing the protagonist wants to get, will ever be easy to get. Not even that random girl’s phone number.
K – KNOCK-OUT
When watching a fight, nothing is more frustrating than a draw. Someone should win and the other should be knocked out on the peavement, otherwise it is unsatisfying. The ending of a story can be ambiguous but it must have knock-out power. An unsatisfactory ending can ruin the entire experience the book gives your reader and undermine every page that came before it.
Once you have a character with a serious problem, ‘plotting’ is just a fancy name for how he tries to get out of the predicament. – B. Conrad