Sunday, September 08, 2013

The Weekend Writer: The Plot Whisperer

Now, let's see...What was I talking about before I got distracted by a conference? Oh, yes. Plotting. This could be a good time to discuss The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master by Martha Alderson.

There is lots of good material in The Plot Whisperer. There is also just lots of material in The Plot Whisperer. Though I came away with some new knowledge I think will be very helpful, I also sometimes felt overwhelmed while I was reading.

For instance, Alderson talks about what she calls the Universal Story, a common structure she believes underlies all stories. She also talks about The Writer's Way, which is sort of motivational. I sometimes wondered if this material could have been two separate books. However, I read The Plot Whisperer as an eBook (if memory serves me, I ordered it when it was being offered for free). The Universal Story and The Writer's Way sections of the book were laid out differently than the rest of the text and with an eBook readers don't get a good look at that. How the page is laid out helps comprehension, and I wasn't getting the benefit of that. Those people reading this in another format may not have the same response I did.

Putting that issue aside, there are many, many good takeaways with this book. Among them:

  • The difference between plotters and organic writers. This book is very good on organic writers, though I may be biased because I self-identify as one.
  • The three major plots for a story--dramatic action (what); character emotional development (who), and thematic significance (why). Many writers don't think about theme at all while they're writing and only identify their theme after they're done. I like the idea of recognizing your theme early on and working with it throughout the writing process.
  • Back story, and when to use it, versus front story.
  • Scenes show, summaries tell. In order to keep a story from appearing episodic (all scenes), you need some judicious use of summary.
  • Cause and effect. In order to create the causal relationship necessary for a plot to be a plot and not a series of random events, Scene A should set up the cause of the effect that will occur in Scene B. There should be a linking effect.

Writing books are like cookbooks. Every reader of a writing book is going to appreciate different things, just as every reader of a cookbook is attracted to different recipes. So other readers are going to jump at other parts of The Plot Whisperer. I am finally working on a new manuscript, one in which I've been concentrating a great deal on planning scenes. A lot of the points I just checked off above are having an impact on the writing of this new work.

Plotting is hugely important, Weekend Writers. You really should consider some study before trying to do it. Martha Alderson maintains a plot whisper blog, and she has a plot series on YouTube, How Do I Plot a Novel, Memoir, or Screenplay. She has another YouTube series in which she analyzes a piece of writing for plot and structure. She also sponsors an International Plot Writing Month in December. So she offers quite a bit of free material on plotting that new writers can take advantage of.

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