29 November 2010
Wednesday begins the 3rd Annual International Plot Writing Month, also known as PlotWriMo or as my friend and short story writer Mary Eastham dubs the month of December, PostNaNoPlot Perfection.
Write now. Shape your words into a compelling story throughout December.
Perhaps you didn't do nano? Don't even know what it is but you have a draft of your book and are wondering, now what?
No draft of a story written? Follow the steps outlined this month to generate ideas for one. (You'll have to use your imagination and fill in the missing blanks, but you're good at that, right? You're a writer.)
Follow me here everyday for plot tips and tricks and inspiration beginning Dec. 1st.
No writing required.
Use the month to push aside the words and analyze the characters and dramatic action and thematic significance you have written. Brainstorm for an effortless draft two in January '09.
26 November 2010
22 November 2010
15 November 2010
12 November 2010
1) Writers Balk at Plot
At some point, however, every writer, even those who work out their stories on the page, requires some sort of structure in which to present their work. Plot is the interweaving of character emotional development, dramatic action and thematic significance. In other words, someone acts or reacts. In so doing, that someone is changed and something is learned.
2) Writers Concentrate on Their Strengths, Forgetting that Plot is not Merely Action-driven Nor is it Only Character-driven
The rhythm of story telling is in all of us right now, especially for those of us who were read to as youngsters and continue to read fiction today.
(PLOT TIP: The best way to becoming a better writer is to become a more voracious reader).
Natural born storyteller tap into this rhythm unconsciously and are able to weave all three plot lines without much conscious thought to structure. For the rest of us who have something to say and long to be heard or, in our case, read, our stories tend to turn out lopsided. Why? Because we get stuck either by concentrating on action only, forgetting that character makes up 70% of good fiction, or by delving into the inner-workings of characters with little regard for conflict, tension and suspense.
3) Writers Forget the Importance of Cause and Effect
The structure of story has remained essentially the same since the beginning of time. The elements that vary are the beat or tempo and the intensity. Take, for example, the best seller The DaVinci Code (dramatic action-driven story) by Dan Brown with its break-neck pace of action versus the more leisurely plot pace of the early 19th century Emma (character emotional development-driven story) by Jane Austen. Though the degree of intensity rises at differing speeds, both stories possess a strong element of suspense thanks to the use of tightly linked cause and effect.
Without Cause and Effect, Tempo and Intensity a story can bog down and the writer gets stuck.
Of course, writers of today always have the option to give their readers the unexpected and slow things down. But whether you adhere to the current story telling standards or create your own, and whether you write thrillers, memoirs, historical or mainstream fiction, a firm understanding of the essence of plot helps to not only keep you going, but increases your chances of being published and enjoyed by readers.
4) Writers Tell Instead of Show the Story
Show, don’t tell. We’ve all heard it. Nevertheless, writers often get stuck on wanting to tell their story and thus end up writing in summary. Summary sums up or tells what happens over a period of time in your story. Summary is important, but it also puts distance between the reader and the story. Scene shows what happens as the action unfolds moment-to-moment on the page. Scene is immediate and draws the reader in close to the story.
Scene holds the same sort of structure as the overarching plot of a story, beginning with steps toward a goal or desire, followed by some sort of conflict and tension and ending with a cliff-hanger. Each scene has a tiny plot of its own. Understand scene and you begin to understand the essence of plot.
Scene focuses on motion with tension and conflict, and slows down the story speed for maximum effect. Not all scenes have really big events going on in them, but every scene holds layers and layers of information packed into the moment all at once written in detail. If you can convince the reader to trust you the small things up front, they will believe you in the big things to come.
All the high points in a story must be played out in scene on the page, moment-by-moment in real time. The technique of slowing things to moment-by-moment forces the stakes in a story ever higher. At the same time, the stakes also rise for you as the writer. Many beginning writers hide from the pressure of creating scenes by relying on summary and narration. These same writers hold the mistaken belief that they can control things better by telling what happens rather than by showing in scene. My contention is if you break down scene to its smallest parts you retain control.
5) Writers Forget that the Craft of Writing Comes in the Deliberate Arrangement of Scenes
The muse flows into our imagination through visions and ideas, dreams and inspiration. However, once all the muse’s wonderful material is on the page, it is then up to the writer to organize the scenes in order to give them the biggest impact.
08 November 2010
Several writers at last week's plot retreat were local. The rest flew in from Nevada, Colorado, Mississippi and handful from southern California. Some of the writers knew me from plot consultations and previous workshops and retreats. Others were familiar only through my book and/or other plot tools and YouTube Plot Series.
The focus on Character Emotional Development plot brings up opportunities to use the writing life as examples writers can relate to along with classic novels, memoirs, and screenplays.
It was an incredible five days. Thanks to each of you for taking time out of your busy lives and attending. You touched my heart in deep and wondrous ways.
Fill in the Character Profile below for your protagonist (the character who is most changed by the dramatic action), any other major viewpoint characters and, if there is one, the character who represents the major antagonist for the protagonist. If you decide to do it for yourself as a writer, too, I'd love to learn your answers. You do not have to include your name.
1. What is this character's goal?
2. What stands in the way of the character achieving his/her goal?
3. What does the character stand to lose if he/she does not achieve his/her goal?
4. What is the character's flaw or greatest fault?
5. What is the character's greatest strength?
6. What does the character hate?
7. What does the character love?
8. What is the character's greatest fear?
9. What is the character's dream?
10. What is the character's secret?
27 October 2010
The more organized your vision, the more productive your daily writing practice is for NaNoWriMo and otherwise.
The following steps take no longer than 5 - 9 minutes each. As simple as clicking the step you want and watching a video:
STEP ONE: Character and Goal (Part 1) -- Dramatic Action Plot
STEP TWO: Character Flaw -- Character Emotional Development Plot
STEP THREE: Setting -- Part 1: (Beginning 1/4) -- Ordinary World
STEP FOUR: Setting -- Part 2: (Middle 1/2) -- Extraordinary, Exotic, Unusual World
STEP FIVE: Three Major Plot Threads -- Character Emotional Development Plot, Dramatic Action Plot, Thematic Significance Plot + Romance Plot
STEP SIX: Secondary and Sub-plots
STEP SEVEN: Climax (Part 1) -- The End
STEP EIGHT: Climax (Part 2) -- The End
STEP NINE: Energy Anatomy of Stories -- Plot at the Overall Story Level
STEP TEN: Plot the Beginning
STEP ELEVEN: Turning Points
STEP TWELVE: Goal (Part 2) The Middle -- Dramatic Action Plot
STEP THIRTEEN: Antagonists for Protagonist and for the Writer
MORE TO COME...
Give yourself the gift of writing next month and show up everyday.
21 October 2010
19 October 2010
Plot Series: How Do I Plot a Novel, Memoir, Screenplay?
12 October 2010
05 October 2010
Correctly identify all 32 Santa Cruz iconic landmarks used as the backdrop in the filming of the Santa Cruz Traveling Mystery Tour
· Locals win an overnight stay at the Darling House in Santa Cruz on Valentine’s Day
· Out-of-towners win a 1-hour phone consultation with family expert Cathy Jo Cresss on sibling reconciliation and forgiveness and a 1-hour writer's plot phone consultation with plot expert to the stars Martha Alderson, aka the Plot Whisperer
More than 144 billion videos were viewed on YouTube last year. The number is expected to more than double this year.
My cohort on the Santa Cruz Traveling Mystery Tour is Cathy Jo Cress, author of the just released Mom Loves You Best; Forgiving and Forging Sibling Relationships. She and I recently harnessed the power of YouTube, by launching our own individual channels that highlight local attractions on the Santa Cruz Traveling Mystery Tour.
In the Plot Series, How Do I Plot a Novel, Memoir, Screenplay?, I take writers through the process of plotting out a story. Cathy's videos show how sibling relationships affect our lives and how to fix them in her Mom Loves You Best series.
Together we have planned a 32-step series to be filmed at famed Santa Cruz landmarks.
We began our YouTube series by filming near the renowned surfing spot the HOOK in Pleasure Point. We moved to the Yacht Harbor where we filmed each other sharing tips in our individual areas of expertise.
32 unique, beautiful, literary and historic locations in Santa Cruz County, such as the Surfer Statue, Mystery Spot, Natural Bridges, in front of Town Clock, Tom Scribner statue on the mall in front of Bookshop SC, the whale Marine Lab and the one by SC Museum, UCSC viewpoint with the whole bay on view, Cement Boat view, SC Library with Alfred Hitchcock birds statue/sculpture to name a few, serve as backdrops for our productions from now until January 31, 2011.
Correctly identify all 32 locations and be eligible for a drawing for a free night at the Darling House on February 14, 2011
02 October 2010
22 September 2010
21 September 2010
Oh, and now is a great time to grab your pen and pad of paper and follow along with the Plot Series:How Do I Plot a Novel, Memoir, Screenplay? to plot your next story. That way, when every word is perfect in the story you're finishing up now, you'll have the next one all plotted and ready to go... That's the plan, anyway... Hope you stop by...
18 September 2010
14 September 2010
09 September 2010
Click here to view more free information on plot.
07 September 2010
Recently, I had a hunch perhaps pre-plotting guidance might be helpful, too.
Follow along with How Do I Plot a Novel, Memoir, Screenplay?
What can I say?
I love to teach...
How Do I Plot a Novel, Memoir, Screenplay? is a series of steps and meant to be viewed sequentially from the oldest video to the most recent.
Soon, I'll upload the videos here on the blog, too. First, I need a break from just getting this first phase up and running. Whew!
For updates, please subscribe to the marthaalderson channel, follow for announcements of a new step posted via a new video. I'll also announce via this blog, Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn under Martha Alderson.
For those of you who don't know me, I am Martha Alderson aka Plot Whisperer, international plot consultant for writers, author of Blockbuster Plots Pure & Simple, and founder of Blockbuster Plots for Writers and PlotWriMo.
My clients include best-selling authors, writing teachers and fiction editors, and Hollywood movie directors.
I can help you, too, with plot.
03 September 2010
- Territory of the Antagonists
- The Exotic World
02 September 2010
30 August 2010
24 August 2010
20 August 2010
05 August 2010
Oh, and if, at anytime during the exercise, you are so moved to leap to your feet and write, by all means... do it.
Find an hour of undisturbed time (nice if you do this in bed before you arise in the morning or at night before falling asleep).
Make yourself comfortable sitting or lying down.
Close your eyes.
Take a deep breath.
Let the breath out slowly and mindfully (in other words, concentrate on the air of the breath itself as it passes through your nostrils and how it feels against your upper lip and...)
Arrange the first scene of your story in your mind.
Take another breath.
Let it out.
Settle into the scene. Wait for the fuzziness of the image of the character in the setting clear.
Like a film reel, let each scene play out moment-by-moment to the end of the story. Instead of seeing the words of your story on the computer screen, see the actual action take place behind your eyelids with your imagination.
1. Transitions are often determined by character motivation. When the reader understands what motivates the character to transition between two scenes (locations, time periods), the story flows. In order to image your story, you move between scenes. Without the character motivation, the movement becomes episodic. Character motivation provides a sense of cause and effect, and the movement of the story flows. If the character motivation isn't in your scenes as written, it likely will pop up now. Watch for transitions and keep character motivation in mind to incorporate in your story.
2. Foreshadowing opportunities reveal themselves. You may have noticed in real life that nothing appears out of nowhere, out of the blue? Well, even if you haven't noticed that, in stories, one scene serves to foreshadow what comes next or later in the story. The first scene is preparatory, sets up a feeling of anticipation in the audience. Watch each scene to see what it foreshadows about the upcoming major turning points in the character emotional development plot and the dramatic action plot.
3. Thematic tie-ins hover over the story as you imagine it. Watch for them and take note.
02 August 2010
Follow the energy...
The more energetically charged, passionate, excited, filled with possibility we are, the more energetically charged, passionate, excited and filled with possibilities our writing and writing lives are. A loss of energy is a great time to check in with yourself.
What we desire never comes from pushing. Yes, I appreciate all the examples that prove the opposite is true. However, when we are in the flow of life, there is always enough time, enough support, enough imagination, enough stamina available for whatever we put our minds to.
Keep in mind, Brenda's advice is not permission to go back and rewrite the beginning again.
Instead, give her method at try -- "retrench to a point where you know the story was working and branch off in a new direction" from there.
27 July 2010
But if one broadens the definition of plot to include it as a verb -- what a writer does in deliberately arranging scenes by cause and effect, then there are a multitude of story elements a writer is able to plot. An excellent source to plot out in your stories is the vast array of antagonists* (see below for a list of the Six Standard Antagonists).
Antagonists work well because Dramatic Action caused by an antagonist always creates conflict, tension, suspense and/or curiosity, thus placing those scenes above the line of your Plot Planner. (For more information on the development of a Plot Planner for your individual project, watch one of the Plot DVDs or read the second part of Blockbuster Plots Pure and Simple.)
Think of a story as the shifting of power back and forth between the protagonist and the antagonist. Or, in other words, the protagonist pushes toward something, while forces internal and external (the antagonists) attempt to thwart her progress. A story is the struggle between a protagonist who wants something enough to take action against all the antagonists or forces within and without who work against her. The Plot Planner is merely a line that separates the scenes into those where the energy or power is with the antagonist(s) (above the Plot Planner line) and those where the protagonist is in control or holds the power over the antagonist (below the Plot Planner line).
Scenes with conflict, tension, suspense and/or curiosity test the protagonist and show the reader or moviegoer what the character is made of. Since most people read and go to the movies 70% for the Character Emotional Development, it makes sense to employ as many antagonists as you need to in order to create heightened conflict, tension, suspense and curiosity.
Remember, not all antagonists are people.
A prime example is when the protagonist goes up against nature. Nature as an antagonist can be as monumental as a flood, a hurricane, or an earthquake. Nature can also work on a more subtle level by helping to create mood and add depth to the conflict, tension and suspense. Plot out these nature elements and you will be better able to control the effect intended in each and every scene, and in the overall story itself.
Nature unfolds according to the four seasons. The first of the 7 Essential Elements of Scene is to establish (explicit or implied) right up front in each scene the date and setting. This includes the time of the year, the day of the week, and the time of day. Each of these time factors of nature has the potential to create mood and/or conflict, tension and suspense.
For instance, dawn and dusk are often considered the "between times" when there is a thinning of the veils between the physical and the spiritual, the past and the future. These times often create a sense of poignancy, melancholy, or imbalance in people. Throw in the haunting cry of a mourning dove and the feeling intensifies.
The antagonist of nature often collides with the antagonist of society. For instance, if a character is facing the holidays at the end of the year alone, that scene has the potential to evoke loneliness in the reader or moviegoer in a way no other time of the year is able to without having to say or show anything more. This bleak feeling intensifies if the weather that year is exceptionally violent with torrential winds blowing and rain or snow falling, covering the land in ice.
By plotting out nature elements such as the time of the year, the weather, and/or seasons, a writer is better able to create more depth than if these elements play out as random occurrences. If you have not already done so, indicate on your Plot Planner scene-by-scene the time of the year or days of the week, and see what you find hidden there.
*The Six Standard Antagonists:
1) Protagonist against another person
2) Protagonist against nature
3) Protagonist against society
4) Protagonist against machine
5) Protagonist against God
6) Protagonist against him or herself
22 July 2010
Writers who write by the seat of their pants, or pantsers, versus plotters, those writers who pre-plot before and during writing, are able to craft entire stories through cause and effect.
This past weekend at the SCBWI retreat in Northern California, I met a classic pantser, Kathleen Duey an outrageously generous and creative and successful author of more than 50 books for children, middle graders, and young adults. She, and others like her, are able to write scene after scene by asking: because that happens in this scene, what does the character do next? Because of that, what does she after that?
I used to say simply, because that happens, what happens next? Kathleen's more focused strategy is even better. Because of what just happened in that scene, what does the character do next?
Not all scenes can be or need to be linked by cause and effect, but the more scenes that are causally driven, organically rising up from the action that takes place from one scene to the next, the better.
21 July 2010
That we are both still writing and now both of us teaching gives me joy.
She recently interviewed me. Take a stroll over to her new site and say hi for me!
18 July 2010
When asked, the waitress explained that the protagonist of the book was her best friend as a child (the book first came out in 2000). Her emotional affection even after all these years for the character in a 50 page book was a poignant reminder of the power of the work we put out into the world and a wonderful prelude to the retreat for children's writers.
Every genre of fiction and memoir writing needs a good plot. Thus, I have had the honor teaching plot at every kind of writers conference, chapter and branch meetings, and universities, and have found every group has its own special "vib".
Keep in mind the following are generalizations and are based on the writers who attend my plot workshops. Okay, okay. They are gross generalizations and are by no means meant to offend anyone!
1) RWA or Romance Writers of America writers as a whole are stylishly coiffured women, manicured and neatly dressed. They ask polite questions and withhold judgment.
2) Literary writers tend toward wearing black clothes and their hair long and straight. They often challenge ideas offered and have a tendency to frown.
3) Memoir writers are often rumpled and disheveled. They scribble notes and wear an air of expectancy.
4) Mystery writers are usually quiet, a bit solitary, and keep their ideas to themselves.
5) Fantasy writers wear whimsical and brightly colored clothes. They tend to laugh a lot.
6) Screenwriters fidget and their eyes wander. They seem to prefer information flowing fast and furiously.
After this past weekend's retreat in San Rafael offered by SCBWI, I was again reminded of how special children's book writers are and how they belong in a class of their own.
This group of writers was similar to others in the SCBWI organization I have taught plot to in the past in that many of the writers who attended my plot workshop were elementary and secondary teachers, parents of young children, and/or employed in the creative arts. These writers, too, were similar in their unabashed warmth and enthusiasm and support of my plot ideas and me, even those more right-brained learners who struggled mightily with the concepts but never gave up.
I left the retreat yesterday wrapped in a feeling of joy and hope for the future. The stories these writers craft have the potential to do for young people what Jerry Spinelli did for our young waitress, provide a safe haven for those who feel painfully different, offer a feeling of hope for the future, and a sense of belonging in this great wide world of ours, one that is filled with as many different kinds of people as there are people.
15 July 2010
A Plot Planner mimics the universal story and is the framework for developing a gripping story. Rather than creating a dry, episodic list of scenes to cover, arrange your story by cause and effect to best engage the reader.
Think of the Plot Planner as the route or map of the journey you envision for your story. When you first plan your plot, your route is likely to be sketchy with lots of gaps and dead ends. These gaps will smooth over and fill in as you come to know your story and characters better. Along your story's route, the plot elements of dramatic action, characters, and thematic significance will rise and fall, like waves cresting. The flow of these elements is like the flow of energy the Chinese call “qi” (pronounced “chi”). The qi is the mainstay of life force, inherently present in all things.
Within your story, the energy undulates. Although every story has its own energy, a universal pattern of energy rising and falling repeats itself. The greater your understanding of this stable format, the better able you are to determine where and when to allow the energy to crest, to make your story most compelling to the reader. Allow the energy of your story to direct the flow of your scenes. The closer you can re-create this pattern in your presentation to the reader, the stronger and more compelling your story. A plot planner helps you map your story's energy and direction.
All great stories have a beginning, middle and end.
1. The Beginning
The beginning usually encompasses one quarter of the entire story. Most of us start out strong in the beginning, but struggle to keep the momentum going.
2. The Middle
The middle is the longest portion of the project – one half of the entire story. It commands the most scenes, and is where many writers fall short. When the allure of the beginning is over, the story starts getting messy. Writers often know the beginning and the end of their story, but bog down in creating the middle. Crisis is the meat of the middle.
Place crisis – the scene of greatest intensity and highest energy in your story thus far – around the three-quarter point in your story, when your audience needs a recharge to combat fatigue, frustration, and irritation. Crisis is where tension and conflict peak – it is a turning point in your story. Crisis is developed through the scenes to provide the greatest impact in the energy flow of your story.
The crisis is the false summit of your case, where the audience can perceive the true summit. Here, your story’s energy drops after the drama of the crisis, giving your audience the opportunity to rebuild energy in anticipation of reaching the climax.
3. The End
The final quarter of your presentation represents the end, which comprises three parts: the build-up to the climax, the climax itself, and the resolution. The build-up to the climax represents the steps you take to lead the reader to envision how the story should end. The climax is the point of highest drama in your story, the crowning moment when the thematic significance of your story becomes clear to the reader. The resolution is your opportunity to fully tie together that significance and make your story complete.
PLOT PLANNER BENEFITS
A Plot Planner helps you visualize your story. Use a Plot Planner to place your ideas and sequence your scenes to greatest effect. A plot planner allows you to experiment with changes in the storyline or presentation to evoke stronger reaction and interest from the reader, and gives you a sense for how the story may be paced. A plot planner also allows you to collaborate with others to generate ideas for better developing your story and to solidify your understanding of the story's core elements, and helps ensure that you understand the story you are presenting. Importantly, the plot planner enables you to keep the larger picture of your story in full view as you concentrate on creating the story’s individual parts, helping you maintain paramount focus on crafting a story that will convey your core message to reader or audience in a compelling way.
CONSTRUCTING A PLOT PLANNER
I recommend building your Plot Planner on big pieces of banner paper, running horizontally. It takes up quite a bit of space, but serves as a continual visual reminder of the entire project.
The Plot Planner is merely a line that separates scenes filled with conflict and excitement (above the plot planner line) from those that are passive, filled with summary and back story, or heavy with information (below the plot planner line). Scenes are where the story plays out, where the action happens moment-by-moment in your presentation.
The external dramatic action of stories told in scene and filled with conflict belongs above the line, like the white caps on the sea’s surface as a wave swells toward the shore. Scenes that show complications, conflicts, tension, dilemmas, and suspense belong above the line. Any scene that slows the story’s energy belongs below the line.
By placing ideas above and below the line, you create a visual map for analyzing critical story information, presentation flow, and weaknesses in your story’s overall sequence.
The Plot Planner line is not flat – it moves steadily higher, building your story slowly and methodically as tension increases. Each scene delivers more tension and conflict than the preceding scene, with intensity building to your story's climax.
13 July 2010
Writers want to cram everything right up front.
"I know all their history, why would I want to withhold it from the reader?"
"I wrote it that way."
"It's the good part."
Writers spend lots of time imagining and writing every little detail about a character's past, be it for a child or an adult. So, of course, writers want to tell everything right away. Perhaps, in the process, even show off a bit how clever they are. Until, one understands how curiosity works.
Not telling everything makes the reader curious. Curiosity draws the reader deeper into the story world. The reader wants to fill in the "who," "what," "how" (the "where" and "when" have already been clearly established right up front to ground the reader). They keep reading. This is good.
Tell the reader only what they need to know to inform that particular scene. This is especially true in the Beginning (1/4 mark). During the first quarter of the project, the character can have a memory. But, if you feel you just must inject a full-blown flashback, where you take the reader back in time in scene, wait until the Middle.
(PLOT TIP: If you're absolutely sure you absolutely have to include the flashback, try using one when you're bogged down in the middle of the middle.)
05 July 2010
Easy access to San Jose airport
Click for information on the next Plot Retreat, this time for 5 days: November 3 - 7, 2010
We ate food worthy of a 5-Star Resort