30 October 2008

Winner Announced!

Thank you, Kathrynn Dennis for posting last week -- Pets in Plots: Help or Hindrance.

Last night, I reread the first couple of chapters of Dark Rider for a Romance Writers Plot eBook I'm putting the final touches on and was once again swept away by your writing, your crafting, your plotting, your heart. Great writing. Looking forward to reading your latest and award-winning Shadow Rider. Congratulations on all your success!!

The winner of the drawing for a free copy of Shadow Rider is Becky Levine!! Congratulations, Becky. Enjoy.....

Thanks again, Kathrynn.

22 October 2008

Pets in Plots: Help or Hindrance?

KATHRYNN DENNIS is the author of Dark Rider and Shadow Rider. The Romance Times Reviews recently awarded Shadow Rider 4 Stars! and writes: "The color, vibrancy, and excitement of the Middle Ages allows Dennis to create a memorable tale of two people whose destiny is tied to a mystical colt. Dennis tells her story with passion, drama, and a love of animals that will enthrall readers."

Horses take center stage in her stories. I asked her if pets are a hinderance or a help to plotting? (naturally!)

Pets and animals have a lot to contribute to plot—I’m not talking about Old Yeller, or Black Beauty, where the animal is the plot, but rather books where the animal plays a role, though not so prominantly. Animals can be developed as stand alone characters that take action and thus move the plot in a particular direction, or they can add a layer of character to their owner’s personality. How, exactly, do they do that, you ask? The literature is rich with information on the human-animal bond and why people choose the pets they do. It’s called pet-owner profiling. Pets and animals in the story help the reader get into the head of the human characters. There are good studies which suggest pets are an extension of their owners—in looks and in behavior. People tend to chose pets that look like them, much like they choose a human life-partner. Take a look at Paris Hilton, Jessica Simpson, and Jake Gyllenhaal with their dogs. It’s hard to miss the physical similarities. Pet owners also tend to choose pets with personality traits like their own. Turns out you can learn a lot about a person’s character just by knowing what kind of pet they own. Here’s what the seminal research by Kidd and Kidd (1980) tells us about pet-owner personality traits:

• Cat lovers are high in autonomy and low in dominance and nurturing.

• Dog-loving men are high in dominance and aggression. Dog-loving women are high in dominance, too, but low in aggression.

• Horse lovers in general are assertive, introspective, and self-concerned, but limited in cooperativeness, nurturing, and warm human relationships. Male horse-lovers are aggressive, dominant, and less expressive in general. Female horse-lovers avoided aggression and are easy going.

• Turtle lovers are hard-working, reliable, goal-oriented, and see the world as lawful.

• Snake lovers are unconventional, informal, novelty seeking, and unpredictable.

• Bird lovers are contented, courteous, expressive, social, and altruistic.

Pet owners in general are considered to be more nurturing and low in autonomy, no matter what kind of pet they own. I’ve noticed dog and cat-loving characters enrich a fair number of romance novels (for an early example, think of Georgette Heyer’s Ulysses in Arabella) and the personality of a male horse-owner certainly has the makings of a historical romance hero—think cowboys, knights, and men who were rich enough to fox hunt. Dominant men. Aggressive, alpha males who had trouble expressing themselves (until they met the heroine, of course).
I keep thinking about Rex, the hamster in Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. Rex embodies the character of a bounty-hunting woman who keeps a hamster for a pet. She’s high in autonomy and not especially nurturing. Neither is Rex. Both make me laugh.
I’ve not seen many romances where a character owns a nontraditional pet (fish, lizards, or pocket pets like Rex), but I’m sure they are out there.

There are also some interesting reads on the pathological condition known as pet hoarding. Profiles of hoarders suggest the condition is a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder and affected people usually come from chaotic, unstable homes. Just google pet hoarding and you’ll turn up a fair number of psych reviews on the topic.

If you’d like to dig deeper into pet-owner profiling, check out Why We Love the Dogs We Do: How to Find the Dog That Matches Your Personality by Stanley Coren (Simon and Schuster; ISBN 978-0684855028). There are some interesting chapters in there about dogs (breeds) for introverts and extroverts, dominant people, not-so-dominant people, trusting, or controlling people, and an in-depth examination of the dogs owned by various leaders and famous personalities--what their dog-ownership reveals about their non-public personality.

If you understand your character, the character will drive the plot. Not the other way around (a pitfall for writers). So pets can enrich the plot, especially if they are used as character enhancers. They are only a hindrance if they serve no purpose. I love an author who can weave a pet into a plotline or incorporate a pet or an animal to enlighten my understanding of the owner’s character. As a reader, can you recall pets that helped move a story along, or helped you better understand the character of their owner?

I’ll give a free copy of SHADOW RIDER to a randomly chosen commenter!

Thank you, Martha, for inviting me to blog!

For more about Kathrynn Dennis, please visit for a plot interview where we asked Kathrynn about her writing process, with an emphasis on plot.

(NOTE: I had the great honor of working with Kathryn on her book's early development.)

17 October 2008


National Novel Writing Month is fast approaching. In preparation for the big event, I'm working with several writers who plan to write the first draft of their novel in a month. A couple of the writers are veterans to the event and eager to utilize their time more efficiently than they have in past years. The other writers are undertaking the challenge for the first time.

As the official NaNoWriMo site explains: "National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30."

This approach works best for "pantsers" or those writers who prefer to write by the seat-of-your-pants, in other words, to work things out on the page with little or no pre-plotting. Typically, these writers allow their characters the freedom to determine the direction and flow of the story. These writers are often more right-brained, creative types who abhor structure and plot (well, maybe not abhor and definitely not all of them, but I've been slammed by enough stanch "pantsers" who believe their way is the only way and that the work I do stifles the creative process -- which it might true for them, but not for all writers -- that I'm a bit touchy about the subject!)

Left-brained or more analytical writers find NaNoWriMo only works for them if they put a bit of time and thought into what they hope to write before jumping into the actual writing.

For any of you who wish to take take part in NaNoWriMo and wish to prepare ahead a time in order to make the most of the upcoming month, I recommend that you create a Plot Planner or a Scene Tracker template now for the project you wish to produce then.

Both templates -- Plot Planner for the overall story plot, and the Scene Tracker, for plot at the scene level -- allow writers to stand back from their projects in order to see the entire story as a whole. As writers we spend the majority of our time at the word level. Many writers end up drowning in their words or stuck down a dead-end dark and scary alleyway with no direction out. A Plot Planner is like a road map to help guide you on your journey throughout the story.

Yes, you have to be flexible and toss the pre-plotting if/when the characters bully you into taking a different route. However, many writers find the pre-planning structural support comforting and allows them to persevere all the way to the glorious end.

Are you a "pantser" or a "plotter'? Are you going to participate in this year's NaNoWriMo??

Great good luck to all of you who are......

15 October 2008

Plot for Memoir Writers

Join me in my first ever teleseminar plot talk. It's for a memoir group of writers, but any writer is welcome and will benefit. Below is the press release blurb.
Looking forward to tomorrow.......

October 16-2008 11 AM PST

Plot for Memoir Writers

We are pleased to have Martha Alderson, an expert on plot and structure and author of Blockbuster Plots, present a special topic that challenges all memoir writers: how to create plot and structure in a memoir. As an international plot consultant for writers, Martha Alderson employs helpful strategies to help writers develop plot for writers of all genres.

Memoir writers struggle with what parts of their life to put into the memoir and what parts to leave out. The challenge is to choose what is most important.
A memoir needs to focus on a specific time period that illuminates and develops the thematic significance to the writer's life, often with the hope that these themes and the lessons learned might benefit others. But being so close to the story of “what really happened “challenges the memoir writer to think in terms of plot.

1. What is plot and why is it important?

2. How to construct a plot plan for the overall memoir

3. The art of writing plot in scenes

4. The importance of the main character -- You!

Martha’s Bio
Martha Alderson, author of Blockbuster Plots has created a unique line of plot tools for writers, including the upcoming Plot for Memoirists eBook. She teaches scene development and plot workshops privately and at conferences. For plot tips, visit: Blockbuster Plots for Writers

Best-selling authors, screenwriters, memoirists, writing teachers and fiction editors turn to Martha Alderson, M.A. for help with creating plot. She has won attention in several literary writing contests, including the William Faulkner Writing Contest and the Heekin Foundation Prize.
Martha takes readers and writers alike beyond the words into the very heart of a story.
As the founder of Blockbuster Plots for Writers, she manages a popular blog: Plot Whisperer

If you are interested, email Linda Joy Myers, President and Founder of NAMW ASAP

09 October 2008

Character Emotion

In order to continue to reading or watching, readers and audiences need to understand and care about the characters. Even bloggers have to create a compelling character in order to hold a reader's attention. Yes, the action has to be exciting and there has to be some meaning attached to the writing. But, what people most identify with is the character.

One terrific way to help a reader connect is to "show" the character's response to the conflict and action. Not the character's internal monologue about how she feels about what just happened to her through the conflict and the action, what is best is an actual action or behavioral response.

Early in the story, the character's emotional responses as shown through their actions help identify and develop the character. Later in the story, the character's transformation is revealed through the transformation of their choices and behavioral responses.

We connect to one another through emotion.

A character's emotional reactions that come as a response to other dramatic action incidents deepen the readers and audience's understanding of who the character really is. When we know how the conflict emotionally affects the character, we care about the character.

Each time the character succeeds or fails as they go after their specific goals, follow up by "showing" their emotional reaction to their success or failure. By this, I do NOT mean, to "tell" us in internal monologue about how they are feeling, but to "show" us as an actual dramatic action response.

Writers are usually great at showing the character in dramatic action. Often, however, writers fail to "show":

** the character in preparations for conflict


** the character in reaction after the conflict

Of the three -- (1) a character in preparation for conflict, (2) a character in conflict, (3) a character in reaction to conflict -- what scenes flow the most freely from you?

05 October 2008

The Middle

I recently worked with a writer who, when she hit the Middle, lost the passion for her story.

When the allure of the Beginning is over, the story starts getting messy. Characters act out. Everything she writes seems boring to her. All her fears about the unworthiness of her project interfere with her ability to create new scenes. She wants me to give her the scenes or at least give her ideas for the scenes.

My advice for this writer is to list the themes she's interested in exploring in her piece. I am NOT referring to the Thematic Significance Statement here. She isn't ready for that yet -- she hasn't even finished the first draft of her project and thus has no idea what her piece will end up meaning in the long run. But for now, she is aware of many of the themes that thread through her story thus far:

Life in this country as an immigrant
Her love and respect for older people and her ease in relating to older people rather than people her own age
Loss of older friends
Hurt that comes with loss
Women empowerment
Live life with a sense of humor
The guts and resourcefulness and resilience of a strong woman

This is just a sampling of the themes that have popped up in her story. By listing them, she hones the focus of the scenes she writes now for this added dimension = meaning. By exploring what she wants to convey, the scenes are no longer quite so episodic or boring to her.

The coherence that came with the sequential order of her story can now be deepened into coherence through theme.

What are the themes that most inform your writing?