30 April 2010

Love Letter to a Writer

Dear Writer,

You have passed into the Middle of your journey with this project. The moment you began writing, you entered the exotic new world of writing. Yes, you've written before now but that was before you had a plot, let alone several, and a plan. You left behind the uncertainty, the blind pursuit of a dream. 

Now, you know where you are going and why. 

Promise me something.

Promise me you'll steer clear of your own ego in this brave new world you've entered. An ego wants something. 

See yourself as the creator of this story = ego and imbalance. 

See yourself as the conduit = cooperation and balance. 

Guide the story along the parameters you have planned. Do not let your analytical mind offer suggestions, changes, improvements. Over the past weeks, your analytical mind has served you well as you plotted and planned, schemed and researched. The moment you crossed the threshold into writing, your analytic mind shape-shifted from ally to antagonist. Always the Middle is fraught with antagonists as a way to test you, distract you, interfere with your success.

Don't get slowed down. Stay in the moment of the writing itself. Your story lives within you. Write with it rather than about it. 

Lots of surprises await both your story and you. 

Enjoy the process,
Martha aka Plot Whisperer

29 April 2010

Moves a Character Makes at the Climax

Interesting dilemma in a recent plot consultation -- the protagonist (a 12 year-old in a middle grade fantasy novel) kills the evil queen, her mother, at the Climax. 

Now, before you react, let me explain. Turns out in the Resolution the woman she kills is not actually her mother. Whew! Still, the reveal comes too late to justify the killing as the story is written now. 

This age-group, heck, any age group, for the protagonist to do such a deed, the mother must be evil incarnate -- which the queen is though not necessarily shown enough throughout the story as it's written now -- and even then, I believe it is a tough sell for middle-grads readers, or at least their gatekeeper -- parents, teacher, etc.

Not even Luke Skywalker is able in the end to kill his own father -- Darth Vader -- in the Star Wars films.

The archetype of the Mother needs to stay pure. The woman she has become can be hated -- yes? -- but...

The Climax is the crowning glory of the story. The reader has been reading for pages and pages. This is the scene they will likely remember. To have such controversy at that moment can work in adult fiction, but in middle grade fiction... 

27 April 2010

Plot Interview

Uma Krishnaswami is a former child writer who now writes for children, and teaches writing in the MFA/Writing for Children and Young Adults program, Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Her blog name says it all: Writing with a Broken Tusk

She interviewed me.

Check it out.

Thanks, Uma.

26 April 2010

A Shortcut for Writers on a Spiritual Path

The fear you greet at every major threshold of your life is simply based on a fantasy of a danger that has not happened. Rather than stay frozen on the future, get out of your head. Stay in your body. Seize this moment and write something, anything. Keep moving. Write through the fear. 

Today, detach from the outcome and concentrate on putting one world after another on the page. Forget the duality of good versus bad. Marvel at the miracle of words appearing out of nowhere and you writing them on the page.

Replace fear with blind trust that you will be supported and that all is well.

Make the act of writing or whatever you do an act of love...

22 April 2010

Ascent to the Climax for Writer and Protagonist

I have the great pleasure of working with a writer who is as fascinating and inspiring as his story. 

The inspiration for his story hit about 15 years ago. He's been writing off and on. Well, more off than on... plagued with negative beliefs and internal antagonists and fear of the great unknown.

He signed up for on-going plot consultations and started showing up for himself. He crossed the threshold from the Beginning not only of his writer's journey into the Middle but also on the the story he wanted to craft, he moved from a few scenes in the Beginning to an actual writing discipline (meaning he shows up for his writing for a specific daily word count).

Next big step was writing the Crisis. That he did this week. He faced his greatest fear along with his protagonist. In so doing, both he and his character died to who they have always been. Truly. I hear the change in the energy of his voice. I sense the change in his focus and consistency by his success.

Starting today, he and his protagonist walk into who they are meant to be. 

He makes the ascent to the Climax for both himself and his protagonist. A time of great transformation. 

The true celebration is still several weeks away. Not until he finishes this first draft and his protagonist prevails in the Climax has he accomplished what he set out to do 15 years ago.

His journey and his progress thus far is huge. He and all of you out there living a writer's life are why I do what I do. As a writer crafts a story, you reinvent and revitalize your own life. Mine, too... Thank you....

21 April 2010

Definition of Plot for Writers

Plot integrates dramatic action, a character’s emotional development, and thematic significance in a story

In other words, when the dramatic action changes the protagonist at depth over time, the story becomes thematically significant.

Here is a writer’s definition of plot:

Plot is a series of


deliberately arranged by

cause and effect

to create

dramatic action

 filled with

conflict, tension, suspense, and/or curiosity

 to further the

character’s emotional development

and provide

thematic significance.


So, what does that mean?

A.     Scenes

Plot is a series of scenes that show outward action.  Scenes are in the now, the physical, moment-by-moment.  Action is a scene marker, as is dialogue.  Think of each scene as its own little story.


B.    Cause and Effect

Plot is a series of scenes deliberately arranged by cause and effect.  Cause and effect means that each scene comes directly from the preceding scene.  One scene causes the next, creating a satisfying story for audiences because each scene is organic. From the seeds you plant in the first scene, the next scene emerges.


C.    Dramatic Action

Plot is a series of scenes deliberately arranged by cause and effect to create dramatic action.  Dramatic action means that the scenes played out moment-by-moment through action and dialogue include conflict.


D.   Conflict, Tension, and Suspense

Plot is a series of scenes deliberately arranged by cause and effect to create dramatic action filled with conflict, tension, and suspense. Story is conflict shown in scene. Conflict, tension, and suspense force the audience members to the edge of their seats. Conflict, tension, and suspense are built through setbacks, not through good news.


E.    Character’s Emotional Development

Plot is a series of scenes deliberately arranged by cause and effect to create dramatic action filled with conflict, tension, and suspense to further the character’s emotional development. More than anything else, readers identify most with the characters.  Characters in a story allow you to tell the story through their eyes and hearts, help advance your story's s plot and theme.

We connect to one another through emotion. A character able to “show” an emotional response to the conflict and action engages the reader, while a character who merely “tells” how she feels about what happened is boring and often unbelievable. A character’s action or behavioral response to conflict, during the event itself and later, in relating the conflict, is most compelling to an audience.  Your audience needs to understand and care about your characters who represent the heart of your story.  Emotional meaning always comes from your characters.


F.    Thematic Significance

Plot is a series of scenes deliberately arranged by cause and effect to create dramatic action filled with conflict, tension, and suspense to further the character’s emotional development and create thematic significance.  Thematic significance ties your entire story together. It is the main thrust of your presentation and what you hope to prove through your story.  The theme is the why: what you want your audience to take away after having read your story. The deeper meaning of the story becomes the thematic significance of the story itself. 

20 April 2010

Universal Story and Plot

I bow down to the writer's spirit in each of us -- the spirit of perseverance and for continuing against all odds and against all conventional reason.

A writer on her third major rewrite finds the Universal Story defines the linear plot and structure of her intuitive and otherwise random story. Now that she has the logical, sequential order of the scenes in place and objectively knows where the story is going, she can forget about the bigger picture and subjectively concentrate on writing each scene one word at a time. 

This is not necessarily easy for a random, intuitive and subjective writer. Classically favoring "right-brain" thinking, for her to focus in on the parts does not come naturally. However, as long as she stays at the concrete level (a strength) of the scenes and words, she'll be fine. 

I especially love it when writers like her reach the Middle because the scenes there take place in an exotic world of her own making. Thus, she can craft those scenes in her truly authentic voice and style and can follow the energy. Here, time does not have to travel in a linear fashion, the exotic world can be anything she wants it to be, as random, intuitive and subjective as she desires.

13 April 2010

Light a Candle

Go only where you feel cared for and supported; where everyone sees you as perfect.

How are you doing in that department when it comes to you and your writing? Do you care for yourself enough to show up for your writing? Are you supportive of your passion for writing? Do you see yourself as perfect? Do you see your work as perfect?

The relationship we have with our writing is reflective of our relationship with ourselves.
  • Show up daily for your writing 
  • Light a candle
  • Ask for guidance and support
  • Begin writing
  • Quit writing before you begin to lose energy for what you are doing, before you begin to trash talking your work, before you despair. Quit while you're still in the flow, feeling good about yourself and the process of creating something out of nothing on the page
  • Blow out the candle
  • Ask the smoke to take your thanks and gratitude for your writing to the source of all creation
Our stories represent a deep and passionate calling. 

Begin a new relationship with yourself as a writer.

12 April 2010

Planning Your Plot

Finished one huge project. Cleaning and purging before beginning the next, I found perched on my computer screen a document I presented to a group of 300 corporate defense attorneys last year in Hawaii. Before I file it away, I thought I'd share a part of what I wrote for them (I adapted it back to writers where it initially began in part in Blockbuster Plots Pure & Simple).

Plot your story plan using the universal story form for structure and impact. The universal story form 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 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 create a compelling story.  Allow the energy of your story to direct the flow of your story. The closer you can re-create this pattern in your presentation to the readers, the stronger and more compelling your story.  A plot planner helps you map your story's energy and direction.

10 April 2010

Mother Knows Best

Thanks to my mom, I have a new understanding of the plot work I do with writers. Leave it to my mother to be the one to teach me.

In February, during a lull in preparing for 2 giant birthdays in one -- my mother's 90th and my sister's 60th, I made the Beginning section of a Plot Planner for my mother's blog.

Never did I know how much angst that 8 X 11 piece of paper with a simple line and some sticky notes could cause.

Rather than write the scenes she had come up with, my mother left the Plot Planner out in plain sight. Now that I know better, I assume the long pause in her blog posts these past several weeks because of computer problems was likely due to the looming Plot Planner. The compulsive knitting she undertook could also be due in part to resistance to the threat of the Plot Planner.

She reminded me today of how simple things can scare her, this from a woman who has never shied away from anything she wanted in life!

Anyway, now I know why sometimes it takes so long to hear back from writers after the work we do together. Rather than a help, seems some of the support I offer limits more than broadens a writer's passion -- at least that seems to be the case with my mother. Drat!

Perhaps I'll direct writers interested in a plot consultation to read this post first as a disclaimer.

08 April 2010

Stamina for Writers

Received the following from a writer I'm working with:

"Through our time together, I've come to realize that writing is all about stamina!! I had NO idea how much THINKING and CONNECTING goes into a story.  I've done technical writing/reports/research for years but none compares with the effort necessary to craft a story. Novel writing is also much more intriguing and fulfilling." 

The writer is crafting a complicated murder mystery with many suspects, thus all the "thinking" and "connecting" he has to do. 

I am pleased he finds novel writing intriguing and fulfilling because as soon as he moves from plotting and planning, his true writer's journey begins.

Every protagonist embarks on a journey that sends her both externally and internally into, as yet, undiscovered places. A writer does, too. 

The uncertainty of creating something out of nothing often sends a writer spiraling into depression, confusion, blocks, and frustration. The more sensitive the writer, the deeper the abyss. 

"If you can do something else," an early writing instructor advised the class. "Do it."

If you can't silence the whispering or still the pen to paper, proceed with a willing heart. Trust the process. Magic happens....

06 April 2010

Shift from Wantabe to Writer

Comment from a writer I'm working with that shifted the same writer from resistance and excuses to consistent, daily writing and led to this post: 

"My identity is not wrapped up in the book. I am just the writer."

This is big. From my work with writers, I've seen that the more invested the writer in the end result = creating the great American novel that will give them status and awards and attention and respect or, in other words, self-enhancement, are the writers who struggle the most and take the longest to finish, especially the first draft. 

The more our egos are attached to the outcome, the more difficult the process of writing.

Identification means you're someone when successful and that you are no one when you're lacking. 

The more you identify with the end result, the more difficult it is to stay in the now of putting one word on the page at a time and the easier it is to listen to the internal antagonists as they whisper doubts and tell you you're not good enough, don't do enough, don't deserve success, aren't smart enough...

The more your ego is involved in the outcome, the less able you are to actually write.

Writing and every other artistic endeavor is linked to the act of creation and is meant to be honored. 

When you separate yourself from the identification of "my" book, you create distance which allows inspiration to flow.

01 April 2010

Plot Your Writing Schedule

1) Give yourself a deadline for your writing project where ever you are in your writing life right now today:
  • Finish the first draft
  • Write the final draft
  • Submitting the completed manuscript
2) Mark a big red X on your deadline day and write in your concrete long-term goal. Example: by June 1st, I hold in my hands the completed first draft of my manuscript 
(NOTE: best if written in present tense. The mystics say time is non-linear. If that's true, it means your goal has already been accomplished and you have only to catch up in real time.)

3) Work backwards on the calendar. Count the number of days between today and your deadline that you can realistically write. Example: 61 days total

4) Ask yourself how many words, pages you can write in a day. Example: 5 pages

5) Estimate how many pages your entire first draft. Example: 320 pages total

6) Where are you now? Example: Page 100

7) How many pages left? 230 total

8) Calculate how many days total needed to write the pages left at the rate you currently write. Example: 46 days total needed to write 230 pages at 5 pages per day. 

9) Subtract the number of total days needed from the total number of days between now and your deadline. Example: 46 from the total number of days between now and your deadline 61 = 16 extra days. 
(NOTE: with appropriately 8 weeks between now and the deadline of June 1st, you have a safety net of 1.8 days. In other words if you can't write one day, you can still make your deadline.)

10) Mark a daily schedule on your calendar not taking into account the extra days.

The concrete task of scheduling times and goals for each writing day makes you more realistic about your writing goals, allows you to visualize your writing life, gives you the short-term goals necessary to achieve your long term goal.

Now, the question is, what's your writing dream?