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Simplifying the Process of Plotting a Novel or Screenplay
on September 21, 2011
Reviewed by C. J. Singh (Berkeley, CA)
THE PLOT WHISPERER begins by showing two diagrams: "The Plot Planner" diagrams the entire process of plotting, and "The Scene Tracker Template" diagrams the seven essential elements that constitute effective scenes. Although Figure 1 displays the Plot Planner, Alderson favors writing the scenes first approach. These two diagrams also appeared in the author's "BlockBuster Plots: Pure and Simple," published in 2004. (Years ago, I attended one of her brief workshops in San Francisco, where I bought two of her workshop DVDs. Both DVDs are excellent.)
The second chapter, "The Universal Story," is a simplified version of Joseph Campbell's classic "The Hero With a Thousand Faces." ("The Plot Whisperer" lacks acknowledgements of earlier fiction-craft books.)
In later chapters, the plot planning process is exampled by analyses of three widely read novels: William Golding's "Lord of the Flies", Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mocking Bird," and John Steinbeck's "East of Eden." The scene tracking process is exampled by analyses of the opening three scenes of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby."
New to this edition is "The Thematic Significance Bubble Template, " introduced as follows. "The more you home in on the deeper meaning of your story and the big problem that needs to be solved in your protagonist's life, the more focused the scenes will be and the richer their presentation. Many writers scoot as far away as possible from the thematic significance of their stories. I believe, instead, that you should dive right in" (page 60). This template is illustrated by an analysis of John Steinbeck's "East of Eden," coming up with the theme: "The choices one makes, not one's blood, determine one's destiny." Excellent diagrams.
"The Plot Planner" diagrams the beginning--one-fourth of total pages; the middle--one-half; and the end--one-fourth. (These divisions were popularized by Syd Field in his pioneering book, "The Screenplay," published in 1978, based on the classic "The Poetics" by Aristotle, the original guru of dramatic writing.)
In the Plot Planner diagram, above and below the rising plot line are plot scenes "that connect by cause and effect." Below the plot line lies the "territory of the protagonist," and above it is that of antagonist (s)--"other people, nature, society, machine, God." Below the plot line, the protagonist develops character by "calm, coping, planning, solving problems" and is in control. Above the line, protagonist's character development occurs by "loss, failing to cope, grief, rebellion, ambition, unhappiness, flaw, hatred, loss of power, anger." Dramatic action is presented by "discovery, conflict, tension, suspense, catastrophe, the chase, betrayal, deception, curiosity."
"The Scene Tracker Template" comprises seven elements: Chapter/Scene; Date and Setting; Character Emotional Development; Goal; Dramatic Action; Conflict; Emotional Change; Thematic Significance.
The above template and "The Thematic Significance Bubble Template" are the author's specific contributions toward simplifying the plotting process of novel-writing. And that merits five stars for the book.