Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Author Spotlight on: Martha Alderson

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.

I watch your 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.

I tend to plot as I write so this is good to hear :)

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.


Laura Pauling said...

I've watched most all her vlogs - terrific!

I think one of the most misunderstood aspects of structure is how closely connected it is character arc and emotion. Realizing that was my lightbulb moment.

Great interview!

Plot Whisperer said...

Hi Sherrie,

Thank you so much for hosting a stop on the Plot Whisperer blog tour!

I'll stop by throughout the day to answer any questions and get in on any plot discussions that may ensue...

Happy Wednesday!

martha aka plot whisperer

Plot Whisperer said...

Hi Paula,

Glad to hear you've watched the vlogs! As you probably read in the interview above, I had no idea what I was doing or getting into. Sort of like writing a story for the first time. Sometimes you just have to jump in with both feet and see what happens next.

Right action always seems to bring along its own gifts...

Stina said...

Thanks, Sherrie, for mentioning the book. It sounds great, no matter what kind of writer you are.

Kelly Polark said...

Excellent interview.
I love the two questions: who is the main character and what does he/she want. Simple yet so helpful!

Melissa Sugar said...

Awesome interview. I have said it a million times, this is by far the best writer-how to book that I own. I read it from cover to cover when it arrived a couple of weeks ago and am reading it again now (this time with my giant strip of paper across my dining room table)-to create my plot planner. Martha helped me understand for the first time the difference between (and the strengths and weakness of) the left vs. right brain writer. She also helped me fully comprehend the transformation process. I could go on and on.

I am going to purchase plot consultation time with her. It is an expense that I can justify. I am even considering offering this as give-a-way for a contest on my blog.

I admit that I did not know of Martha before this book. I guess I live in a cave, but I am eager to listen to all of her vlogs.

Thank you for the excellent interview. I highly recommend her book, The Plot Whisperer-Secrets of Story Structure any Writer can Master. I am glad that I did not miss this interview.


Janet Kerr said...

Hello Martha,

Those 2 simple questions are just what I need to clarify inner plot & outer plot.

I understand how to plot the dramatic action however I am not so sure about the inner plot. Are these gradual changes in the character's emotional development until the epihany? Or is it one big change in the character?

And another question:
What would be the question then for the thematic line?

1st Who is the MC?
2nd What does the MC want?
3rd ???

Thanks for any feedback.

And Sherrie, thanks for the great interview. It is very informative.

Jan K.

Plot Whisperer said...

Hi everyone! See I missed out on some action here. Thanks for visiting and commenting.

Melissa! I don't even know you (though your amazing review sounds a bit like I could have paid you to write it, it's so wonderful!) but I LOVE you. Thank you for your kind and generous words and for sharing them with others! Perhaps you'll cut and paste your words here onto Amazon someday...

Plot Whisperer said...

Hi Janet,

Fun finding you here!

Yes, you can plot out the inner life of the protagonist on a Plot Planner just like you plot out the dramatic action.

Or, you can fill in on a Scene Tracker the character emotional development column to track what and where you introduce who the character is at the beginning (1/4) of the story and then compare that to how you deepen the readers understanding of the depth of the internal issues holding the protagonist back from seizing her goals.

After around the 3/4 mark at the crisis is when you begin to show the actual transformation in the choices she makes and the action she undertakes in the final 1/4 of the story.

Thematic significance comes out of the transformation the character undergoes. When the dramatic action changes the protagonist at depth overtime, the story means something.

Sherrie Petersen said...

Thanks for answering questions, Martha. And thanks for the interview. It was fun getting to know you better!

Lydia Kang said...

Martha's blog is amazing. I love that she shares her knowledge with everyone.

Unknown said...

Great interview. Her book sounds good. I'm a pantzer, so I am interested in seeing what she says about the second draft.

Very well spoken.

Christine said...

The comment about change/transformation is very clear. Insightful, yet challenging. I think that's what I'm going to find in Martha's books/youtube as I delve in further. Insightful, yet challenging. thank you!!

Anonymous said...

I'm going to check out Martha's blog and Youtube page. I'm always looking for tips on structure. Thanks for having Martha over.

Anonymous said...

I love Martha's series on youtube. LOVE it. Used it on a writing retreat and go so, so much done on my WIP it was crazy.

Maricar said...

"All that dramatic action has to have an effect on the protagonist or what is the point?"

I'm going to print that and post it where I can see it everyday. Sometimes I concentrate too much on what's happening in my story, and not enough on the emotional change that must happen to my characters. Thank you for sharing your insights!

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