29 November 2010

PostNaNoPlot Perfection

Tomorrow ends NaNoWriMo for another year. That means you have today and tomorrow to finish. No matter what, keep writing. 

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

Happy Thanksgiving

Two days before Thanksgiving, I receive a lovely tweet from writer alerting me that I'm "hanging with [her] in [her] kitchen today." The fact that I am on the West Coast and she in the east makes her message all the more delightful! I visualize her watching my vlog in her kitchen as she prepares for Thanksgiving day.

She follows up with another tweet saying "the supporting cast" seagulls REALLY captured the attention of [her] golden retriever. The gulls steal the show here.

Thank you for visiting this space,  for sharing your writing journey with me, for tweeting, and friending, and commenting on all the various and sundry social media and elsewhere on the internet. 

A few months ago, I did not even know what a vlog was. Thanks to helpful people, now I have one. Amazing! And writers show up to watch. Gratitude fills me...

I love how small the world is. I love feeling connected to you all over the world. I love you for showing up for your writing. Thank you for your daily inspiration....

22 November 2010

What Skills Necessary for Protagonist to Rediscover?

Writers struggle with where and how to begin their stories for the same reason many writers begin in present story time and immediately flip to a flashback. 

The moment the protagonist loses her innocence or footing often takes place years before the real story time begins. 

In order to prevail at the Climax, the protagonist must rediscover the beliefs, skills, knowledge, or experience lost in her back-story.

I use The Kite Runner, Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden as examples on Step 16 of the Plot Series: How Do I Plot A Novel, Memoir, Screenplay? Click here to read more

15 November 2010

Too Airy-Fairy???

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. 

Feel 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...

12 November 2010

5 Reasons Writers Get Stuck with Tips How to Unstick

Whether a romance writer, historical novelist, screenwriter or memoirist, all writers bog down at one time or another or two or three or five hundred.. In my work with writers, I have spotted 5 classic reasons writers falter when it comes to the craft of writing: 

1) Writers Balk at Plot

At the thought of plot and structure, writers’ palms turn sweaty and their hearts race

Why the visceral reaction?

The act of creation generally comes from the right side of the brain and the linear, concrete structure of plot comes from the left, making structure for writers inherently counter-intuitive.

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.

The first part of getting the story down on the page almost comes from outside of the writer. 

The biggest hurdles for the writer at this stage to overcome are resistance and the inner critic. 

Once the material is on the page, however, is when the writer walks fully into their power as a writer. The biggest hurdle for the writer at this stage is full knowledge about the craft of writing itself.

08 November 2010

A Personal Glimpse into Character Emotional Development

Steeped in nature and beauty, surrounded by writers willing to take a risk, for five days, I went through the process of creating and analyzing plot at both the scene and the overall story level.

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

Marathon Plot Training for NaNoWriMo

In less than 2 hours, pre-plot the characters and events and ideas you're imagining for your NaNoWriMo writing project.

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


Give yourself the gift of writing next month and show up everyday.

19 October 2010

Turning Points

Turning points keep your story moving in surprising and organic directions to more fully engage the reader and audience and satisfy universal expectations.

I spoke about Turning Points in Step #11 of the wacky Plot Series posted on YouTube. 

I move with less resistance and greater joy if I follow the energy. The energy has taken me to presenting the information caught on the video camera rather than post the words here. 

So, rather than read plot tips, stop by and watch them.

The steps are presented in an organized format from Step One to Step Thirty-Two. We film Step 12 tomorrow.

Feel free to randomly click on any video. The 5 to 8 minute presentation will leave you energizes and with a new sensibility of your story.

This is all new to me. Hope you'll follow me into the great unknown...

Plot Series: How Do I Plot a Novel, Memoir, Screenplay?

12 October 2010

Resistance and Writing

Saturday's plot workshop reminded me of how powerful writers' resistance is. I had forgotten.

The group was intimate and our time short. Plot in 5 hours working through lunch. I know from experience that all plot workshops build to a crisis point in the form of overwhelm generally expressed by the highly creative, big picture writers. Either the linear, detail oriented writers aren't as overtly demonstrative as the other group or the plot techniques of standing back to arrange the scenes of a story in a linear form are not as daunting for them.

A writer I had warned (foreshadowed) that he'd come to hate me, declared it so at the beginning of the 4th hour. At around the same time, another writer stood up. First her face crumbled, then she fell apart. I won't go into the details here but before long she reclaimed her authority over herself and the first writer assured me he was only kidding.

I'm grateful for the wake-up call. I had done what I promised myself I would never do. I lost touch with how it feels to be convinced I'd never understand plot. My mission is not to rob you of your power but to empower you. It took me nearly 12 years to learn what I was trying to teach in 5 hours on Saturday. What can I say? I'm a concrete learner. People like me weren't teaching plot with pictures when I was learning to write. 

It's different now. Plot is the cool thing. I'm glad.

But, I never want to forget knowing the part resistance plays in interfering with forward progress. 

Both writers came into the workshop knowing exactly what part of their story was not working. The first writer had been told his beginning didn't work by very important gatekeepers in the trade. The second writer knew her crisis wasn't quite right.

They understood they needed to fix something in their story on an intellectual level. The knowing had not traveled deeply enough, making it impossible for either one of them to give up what they had written. First came denial. Then anger. Finally, I believe and hope, they left with concrete "fixes" though, I fear, work is left to be done before either one of them come to a place of true acceptance. 

My question is: how do we so easily take ownership and control over the creative process? When does that happen? At first, it's a marvel, a miracle, a delight when words flood out of us from some unknown and sacred place. 

The story comes through us. Our job is to present what comes in a pleasing form to the reader and audience. That takes setting ourselves aside and opening our minds for the greatest good of the story. 

05 October 2010

Santa Cruz Traveling Mystery Tour

Win a free one-hour plot consultation! 

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

Visit either or both YouTube channels to spot the Santa Cruz landmark that serves as the backdrop for each video. A new video (or 2) comes out every week.

Plot Series, How Do I Plot a Novel, Memoir, Screenplay?

I deeply appreciate any help you can offer in getting the word out about the Plot Series. Please feel free to pass along the link to your writing buddies interested in pre-plotting for NaNoWriMo or simply eager to start a new story. I'm out to impress a national publishing house interested in picking up my best-selling self-published Blockbuster Plots Pure & Simple. Cathy is promoting the launch of her new book. 

02 October 2010

The End is the Beginning

A plot consultation this week reveals to the writer that the scene sequence she believed was rising to the Crisis rather represents the Halfway Point... perfectly.

Undoubtedly she was disappointed to find she is only halfway through writing the 1st draft of her story rather than 3/4 finished. Still, she knew the story needed the additional page count and by the time we hung up she sounded enthusiastic and empowered to write her way to the Crisis.

Thanks to my background with working with children with learning disabilities (and my own), I appreciate the process of learning new material and find helpful explaining new concepts in as many different ways as I can think of at the time.

The idea of putting her main character in the sort of peril her story demands at the Crisis took to time to penetrate her consciousness on a practical level. She knew intellectually what the Crisis represents to a story. She even had an example in her head of the exact moment in a favorite book of hers. However, to actually bring the concept of the Crisis down to the actual moment-by-moment action necessary to bring the protagonist to her knees and die to her old personality took time.

The writer knows her Climax which I always view as helpful to a writer because the Climax informs all the other parts of the story.

With the Climax fixed in her mind and the scenes waiting to be written to the Crisis and her commitment to herself to a timeframe, she's off and writing...

For more on the Climax and what to keep in mind as your write your way there, view Steps 7 & Step 8 of the Plot Series: How do I Plot a Novel, Memoir, Screenplay?

For information on the contest we're running with the series (I'm doing it with fellow writer -- 
Cathy Cress who has a terrific new book out: Mom Loves You Best; Forgiving and Forging New Sibling Relationships): go to Santa Cruz Traveling Mystery Tour.

22 September 2010

Depicting Character Emotion

To depict character emotion beyond the cliches -- slamming things down and shouting when angry, dancing and singing when joyful -- takes having felt the emotion yourself as a writer or the intuitive ability to detect the subtle exaggeration of common external behaviors that signal deeper emotion.

We are not always encouraged to acknowledge our true emotions -- especially so, women, or so I wonder. Women of a certain generation, mine, were taught to be the peacemakers at all cost, to sweep the raw, edgy emotions out of sight of others which also became more comfortable for ourselves, too.

No wonder many of us have difficulty showing authentic human emotions in our characters in true and fresh ways. 

Subsequent generations have been encouraged to explore feelings and express them more honestly. I wonder if that is true and makes it any easier to conjure up unique shows of emotion??

The little notebook and pencil you carry with you everywhere comes in handy to record people's show of emotion -- both authentic and inauthentic emotions.  

should be up later today)

21 September 2010

Authentic Details Reflect Character's Inner Life & Change within the Story

Once you have your first, second, third + drafts written and you're set on the overall plot, major scenes and turning points, character growth and transformation, and have a sense of your overall theme, turn your attention to "every word perfect."

I know, by the time you've written countless drafts, you're eager (desperate!) to send your story out for feedback from your agent or to query to entice an agent to request your manuscript. If you can hold back, take the time to print out a hard copy of your novel, memoir, or screenplay and read every word with an analytical mind -- can you pump up that common verb for a punchier one? Substitute that cliche with a fresh way of understanding her sensibilities?

Where a character lives; the clothes she wears; the car she drives; what she keeps in her medicine cabinet; her refrigerator; her make-up bag; choice of pictures on the wall of her apartment, townhouse, or mansion  are all an externalization of the character's inner life and mean something. 

Authentic Details in the Beginning, Middle, End:
In the Beginning (1/4)*** of the story, the authentic details you relay reflect the character as she is starting out the story.

In the Middle (1/2)***, the details shift to reflect her as she journeys into the great unknown. 

The authentic details she surrounds herself with at the End (1/4)*** reveals the character's true, authentic details -- hers and hers alone -- and deepens the reader's understanding of who the character is now = the character's ultimate transformation. 

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...

(***These divisions are not rules based on formula but guidelines based on the energetic form of the Universal Story)

18 September 2010

Freedom for Writers in Santa Cruz

As you write forward toward the Climax of your story, a little voice in your head whispers the need to go back and fix what you now know is awful, horrid or simply not working in the beginning. Over and over you silence the voice, stumbling to the End of the Beginning, the Halfway Point, the Crisis, the Climax, the Resolution.

It's difficult to resist the pull to go back and start again.

I'm feeling the pull big time right now. I followed the energy to do this wacky YouTube Plot Series. If you ask me how it happened, I'd have to say it came exactly like a new story. Inspiration hit. Helpful people lined up. I jumped in with both feet and very little, if any pre-plotting.

I know, I know. Flying by the seat-of-my-pants goes against my grain as a plotter but I knew if I didn't just start, I'd find all sorts of reason to back down and never do it.

Now approaching the End of the Beginning of the Plot Series -- everything needed for a plot has been introduced. All the story elements are lining up and in place. A surprising and wonderful subplot appeared out of nowhere and thus, we introduce the Santa Cruz Traveling Mystery Tour (a night at the Darling House in Santa Cruz is the grand prize). One more step, and we jump in and actually get to the plotting -- as a verb. 

Time to get organized. Meeting with my partner in crime, we're plotting out all the locations for the background and Traveling Mystery Tour, dates to shoot, etc. Will be nice to have a plan, a plot planner, a map, a guide to keep us on track while we're busy following the energy.

Still, I so want to go back and re-shoot Step One. Don't get me wrong, the content of the first step is good, great actually. But, I'm hiding in a bush, a dog is whining to be with us, I'm speaking slowly, feels almost like slow motion language... Plus, we hadn't come up with the idea of shooting the videos with local Santa Cruz landmarks in the background. The list goes on. 

I like to advise writers to follow the energy. Whatever you have energy for, you'll bring a freshness to it. Thus, if the energy keeps pulling you back, should you go? Hmmm... I still say resist and find a way to create positive energy for the writing even when most difficult.

If you go back now, you may never find your way back.

And so I resist going back. Might as well keep my focus forward and see what comes. 

I can always go back and re-shoot later. 

Onward and upward -- my wish for you and to find the energy to keep writing forward to the end and my wish for the Plot Series, too.

Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention: Step 6 is up. Absolutely incredible backdrop...

14 September 2010

3 Major Plot Lines + 1 in Novels, Memoir, Screenplays

For a story to have meaning, the dramatic action forces the character to grow and change at the least, transform at best.

Each of these threads = dramatic action, character emotional development and thematic significance runs through every great picture book, middle grade fiction, young adult and adult novels whether genre or literary, all memoirs and screenplays. 

All other plot lines are determined by age and type of story. However, one other plot line is in most stories, other than picture books and middle grade fiction = romantic plot line.

The 5th step in the Plot Series of How Do I Plot a Novel, Memoir, Screenplay? covers this 4th plot line. Hope you'll visit and follow along. 

09 September 2010

Dangling Plot Lines

During plot consultations, my most reliable judge of whether something is working in a writer's story is goosebumps. Weird... I know. Still, that sublime sensation of connection, of perfection sweeps over me  and I know the writer is onto something special. 

A writer in London tells me her story. Scene after scene and the sensation pops up. Once. Twice. Several times. 

That said, this writer has many plot lines: character emotional development, dramatic action, political, thematic, cultural. Nothing wrong with that. Problem arises because all of the plot lines come and go with little coherence. The rising energy is off. Key scenes are a jumble. Nothing adds up to anything.

Still... goosebumps never fail. Plus, it's not that hard to pull the threads all the way through once you understand how.

Step Five of the Plot Series covers plot lines. It should be up early next week.

Until then, grab a tablet of paper and a pencil, click on How Do I Plot a Novel, Memoir, Screenplay? Begin on Step One, which is confusing because videos are duplicated and I haven't figured out how to fix it yet... so, just stick to Step 1, 2, 3, 4 and begin a new story. 

Even if you're in the middle of another story, take a brief couple of minutes every week, visit the Series, and before you know it, when you finish your first story, the next one is all plotted and ready to write.

Click here to view more free information on plot.

07 September 2010

Launch of How Do I Plot a Novel, Memoir, Screenplay? YouTube Plot Series

For the past couple of years, tens of thousands of writers from NaNoWriMo and points near and far follow Plot Whisperer daily in December. PlotWriMo is day-by-day guidance for writers who have finished a draft of a story and the desire to re-vision and shape the thousands of words into an actual plot. 

Recently, I had a hunch perhaps pre-plotting guidance might be helpful, too. 

Aspiring Writers and Writers Ready to Craft a New Story and interested in attending the 5-Day WRITERS PLOT RETREAT Nov. 3rd - 7th inspire this Plot Series

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.

Join us!

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

Another Tip to Bolster the Sagging Middle

Impossible for writers with an appreciation of all the Middle encompasses to write a sagging Middle. 

I've written extensively in previous blogs about the Middle being:
  • Territory of the Antagonists 
  • The Exotic World
(2 Tips for bolstering the Middle)

To add to that, the scenes in the Middle are made up of opportunities for the protagonist to learn the skills and knowledge she needs in order reign victorious at the Climax and achieve her long-term goal. 

Though she is unconscious or oblivious of her need to learn new skills and knowledge, you as the writer are fully conscious. Put her in scenes that challenge her weaknesses and show her what she needs to learn by allowing the antagonists to interfere with her efforts and movement toward her goal. 

02 September 2010

Authentic Details Reflect Ultimate Transformation

The authentic details you identify when writing the scenes in the Beginning (1/4) show the objects the protagonist most identifies with. These objects reflect the protagonist's conditioning by her environment, upbringing, and culture.

When the protagonist moves into the Middle (1/2), she moves out of the ordinary and conditioned world into an exotic and unknown world (thus, the need to create two unique settings). 

Whether she is a willing adventurer or resistant is reflected by the degree of pain caused her by the loss of these objects. Unable to base her identity on her association to her things and lifestyle, she questions who she is. Thus begins her inner plot line and creates the 1st step toward the incremental and ultimate story transformation. 

Look at the objects surrounding you. What do they convey about where you are on your writer's journey? What can you let go of and move closer to where you wish to be?

30 August 2010

Overarching Tension

Meddlesome, murky, sagging are words often used to describe the Middle of an early draft of a novel, memoir, or screenplay. 

One way to support the Middle is by providing an overarching tension -- Will she or won't she? When the reader is clear there is something significant at stake, like life or death, and will be revealed later in the story, the reader is willing to wait and first enjoy a bit of a romp in the exotic world of the middle of the Middle.

More than any other part of a writing a story, the Middle is fraught with antagonists, both for the protagonist and for the writer. Will she achieve her goal? Will you? Or, will the antagonists in the Middle prevail?

Make a list of the antagonists preventing the protagonist from her reaching her goal in the Middle -- both internal and external antagonists. 

Make a list of the antagonists facing you in the Middle -- both internal and external antagonists with the potential to send you off track, stall out, stop writing.

See how the lists are similar and how they are different.

If you're unable to surmount the obstacles awaiting you on your pursuit of finishing your story, can your protagonist? The two journeys are intertwined. Like on a plane with the use of the oxygen mask, attend to yourself first before looking after your story. 

Watch the words you tell yourself. 
Stop thinking so much. 
Get back into your body and write.

Release as much of the overarching tension in your personal story as you can while you systematically build up the story tension. 

The stronger you are, the better your story. 

24 August 2010

Writing is Risky

Do you ever feel like the further you put yourself out there teaching, writing, consulting, living, the more vulnerable you feel?

It's risky, following the energy out of the comfortable zone.

Inside a turtle's shell seems the perfect place to dream and imagine. It's also a good place to lick wounds. So many decisions, so much work, too challenging. Always on the edge of barely knowing. 

The part that believes I'm not good enough, not smart enough, not brave enough, not enough whispers how easy it would be just to stop... 

Safety becomes confining. Life pulses minus one. 

Still... the shell is protective and cool and all mine. 

So tell me. Have you put yourself out there for your writing today? Take any risks?

20 August 2010

Character Flaw

Every protagonist has a number of challenges to overcome in a story. Each of the core challenges can be seen as a separate plot line and plotted out over the course of the story. 

A major core plot line revolves around the protagonist's inner story. To satisfy the inner plot line, the protagonist must undergo a deep and fulfilling transformation. Often this is accomplished by introducing the character at the Beginning of the story with a flaw that must be eventually overcome to achieve her ultimate story goal. 

Following are a few examples of character flaws:

1. Always the victim and unable to take responsibility for actions
2. Control freak
3. Argumentative and short-tempered
4. Liar and a cheat
5. Stubborn
6. Always have to be right
7. Perfectionist and procrastinator

Character flaws in otherwise function individuals are often created in response to the character's back story. The back story is the moment when the protagonist loses her innocence. Because of what happens to the character in the back story, she now (in the front story) holds beliefs or exhibits actions that reflect a deep psychological issue that sabotages her from achieving her overall story goal.

The character flaw is introduced in the Beginning (1/4) of the story, deepened in the Middle (1/2) as the stakes rise and her internal flaw trips her up more and more often until she can no longer deny her part in her failure, an awareness which triggers her ultimate transformation at the End (1/4) of the story. 

05 August 2010

A Guided Imagery Tour of Your Story

I sometimes do brief guided imagery work in plot workshops to relax writers before they begin plotting their stories (for most highly creative writers, the work I ask of them is very stressful and counter-intuitive and can involve quite a bit of resistance on the part of the writer. all writers are anxious about their writing in a group setting), and I use my voice. Guiding an imagery tour on a blog is awkward because you close your eyes. You also need the directions... You figure it out.

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.

Take a breath. 

See your protagonist move from the first scene to the next scene in your story.

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

A couple of months ago in a plot interview, Brenda Novak, author of nearly forty romance novels and more than 3 million books in print and multiple honors, shared a trick she uses when she gets "...stumped. Some people call this writer's block. I loose steam, the tension leaks out of the story and my productivity grinds to a halt. When this happens, I have to retrench to a point when I know the story was working and branch off in a new direction. Every time this happens, however, I find a better way and get excited and start churning out pages again. So I believe it's a good thing, a compass, of sorts."

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. 

Let me know how it works for you.

PS--If you decide to retrench, follow the energy withthe 5 Key Scenes in mind.

27 July 2010


When the Dramatic Action changes the Character Emotional Development at depth over time, a story becomes Thematically Significant. These three threads: Dramatic Action, Character Emotional Development and Thematic Significance, hold the core dynamic of plot.

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.

Date night is customarily considered as Saturday night. What is worse for a character who is alone than to be thrust out on a Saturday night in a lonely city watching couples walk hand-in-hand?

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

Cause and Effect in Plot

Without cause and effect there is no plot. Without cause and effect, events are simply episodic happenings.

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

Donna Levin Interviews Me

I was introduced to plot in my very first writing workshop which I took from Donna Levin more than 15 years ago. Then she had long straight hair below her waist and was pregnant, intelligent, generous and kind. I left the workshop starry-eyed and inspired.

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

All Writers Need Plot

On my way to this weekend's SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) writers retreat, I stopped by my sister's house in Mill Valley. She then followed me to San Rafael and took me to Sol Food for lunch. Our waitress was a gorgeous, young woman who sported a tattoo that ran from her wrist to nearly the crook of her arm. The stick figure, obviously a girl by the triangle skirt she wore, had a star over her head and was a copy of the cover of Jerry Spinelli's book, Stargirl (I use this as a book example in the Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master).

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

Plot Planner

Plot your story using the universal story form for structure and impact.

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.


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.


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

When to Use a Flashback

Watch your delivery of backstory ~ the story of what, in the past, made the character who they are today (in story time).

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.)