I’ve written before about Martha Alderson and her helpful YouTube series on plot. Today I'm talking to Martha about her new book, THE PLOT WHISPERER: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master (Adams Media, October 2011). It's out just in time to inspire all of you getting ready to start National Novel Writing Month next week.
How did you become the Plot Whisperer?The light bulb moment when plot became clear to me took about ten years to snap on. First came trial and error with my own writing, attending writing workshops and classes, and reading every book on writing I could get my hands on. But… the actual moment arrived when I volunteered at a writing workshop for children. Thanks to my background as a special education therapist, I completed a task analysis of the skills required of the students and developed a simple handout to support the children’s writing experience.
One of the first questions I asked the children to answer was who is the main character? (Character emotional development, inner plot)
The second question asked what does the main character want? (Dramatic action, external plot)
The simplicity of those two questions hooked me and since then I’ve been racing to keep up. I began analyzing all sorts of novels, memoirs and screenplays for plot and structure. I was so excited about my finding that I wanted to share the plot ideas with other writers. When I started plot consulting with writers from all over the world, I become the Plot Whisperer.
You’ve been teaching people about plot for nearly 15 years, through workshops, books and dvds. How is this book different from your previous offerings?
Thank you for asking this question! The plot bliss I’ve been swept up in for all these years has deepened as I began to deepen my understanding the universality of our shared journey together. Now I’m passionate to share the story beneath the story.
Just as a writer can push aside her words to see the deeper meaning of her story, anyone can push aside the drama of her own personal life to see the deeper meaning at play and what supports her efforts and what depletes her.
The Plot Whisperer book conveys that deeper meaning and points out how to direct your choices in ways that best supports you in achieving your personal long-term goals in life.
YouTube videos when I get stuck or need inspiration. What made you decide to create those – for free?
I’m so pleased you use the Plot Series as inspiration! A joy to hear. Thank you.
No, thank you! They've been so helpful.
A friend had created her own channel a couple of years before I did. I remember at the time how foreign it all sounded, exotic and confusing – hmmmmm… sort of just like what the protagonist of your story feels upon entering the exotic world of the middle and you may feel each time you move away from your comfort zone in life.
The idea must have been growing in the back of my mind all that time, because one day I asked my friend if she wanted to go for it. I owe the Plot Series all to her because she jumped in with both feet and off we went – blissfully being pulled along, never much knowing exactly what we were doing but having a ball doing it.
Another venue in which to share my passion, that’s how I saw the experience. What I have gotten back from kind words and support from writers all over the world far exceeds what I give.
A lot of “pantsers” get hives when people start talking about plot, but your techniques seem to apply as much to revision as they do to first drafts. Do you think it makes a difference whether you pants your way through the first draft or plot it all out ahead of time?
No. I don’t care how you write the first draft. Just get it written all the way from the beginning to the end anyway you can – pre-plotting, plotting as you write, or writing purely by the seat of your pants. With a completed draft, no matter how wretched you may believe it is, you can then get down to the real work of plot and structure.
You talk a lot about transformation. As a writer, how do you know if your character has changed enough to call it a transformation? And how critical is that to the story?
Change is enough. Change whispers the same empowerment to your reader as a deeper and more profound transformation. All that dramatic action has to have an effect on the protagonist or what is the point?
Change is critical.
Transformation is sublime.
Mmmm...I like that.
What do you think is the biggest stumbling block for writers new to plotting?
Giving in to the belief that it’s too hard. No matter whether you plot or not, the true task at hand is the writing. Don’t ever let anything to get in the way of your writing. If plotting stalls you from writing, stop. Slowly, the more you ready yourself and the ideas grow you’ll find ways to make plot work for you, too.
Oh, this is SO true! And a good reminder to not use plotting as an excuse to not write.
Do you have any workshops coming up where people can work with you on a more personal basis?
Not yet. This has been a wild year of writing and getting the book ready in time for writers to use it to pre-plot for NaNoWriMo. I’m exhausted in a glowy, satisfied way.
Teaching is a part of me. Anyone who is interested in when I plan to dip back into teaching plot can sign-up for the free monthly Plot Tips eZine or follow me on any of the social media.
Thank you, Sherrie!
Thank you, Martha!
Martha Alderson has worked with hundreds of writers in sold-out plot workshops, retreats, and plot consultations for more than fifteen years. Her clients include bestselling authors, New York editors, and Hollywood movie directors. She lives in Santa Cruz, CA. Follow her blog, workshops, vlog, or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.