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The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master Paperback – October 15, 2011
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"Martha Alderson's The Plot Whisperer is the most practical, accessible resource on story structure I've found. I recommend the book to all my students, and I follow its advice in my own work. Thanks for all you do - you've helped me through some tough times!"
Eleanor Brown author of the New York Times bestseller The Weird Sisters
"I don't work from an outline initially, but once the story is written, I'll go back and make a rough outline of what I have, just to make sure the order of the scenes makes sense. It's a technique I learned from the plot whisper Martha Alderson."
Jen Doktorski author How My Summer Went Up in Flames and The Summer After You and Me
"Folks, if you have the chance to learn from Martha Alderson, Plot Whisperer through her books or at a conference do not pass it up! Brilliant!" Danielle M. Smith Literary Agent at Red Fox Literary
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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.
I will say that I picked up some basics on plotting and scene structure in this book, but I got lost somewhere in the higher energy, Universal Story segment, which plays a large role in the teachings of this author.
Obviously our writings come from within us, so whatever avenue gets our stories from our minds and into written words on paper; be it positive energies, meditation, all nighters in front of the computer typing away with non stop coffee, then so be it.
I have no doubt that this book has and will motivate many aspiring writers. As for me, right now--I just want the facts minus the fluff.
Perhaps what sets the Plot Whisperer apart from other writing or plotting craft book is the emphasis on thematic significance. The theme ties together the plot and character changes. There is a goal to every action, and the underlying theme is sometimes not clarified or revealed until the third or fourth draft.
Using examples from popular stories such as "To Kill a Mockingbird", "East of Eden", and "The Lord of Flies", the Plot Whisperer demonstrates graphically the rise and fall of energy through the three act structure. It is also a motivational handbook, one that relates the crisis and struggles a writer faces with the conflict and setbacks of the characters. Just as story characters are held back by their flaws, so are writers held back by their negative attitudes. Just as story characters must cast off the traits and beliefs that hold them back, writers must do the same.
I reread this book every time I finish a first draft and meditate on my story for a month before embarking on the rewrite. I don't necessary do all of the mechanical steps, like Scene Tracker and Plot Planner, but I use the concepts to further refine and unify my characters' goals with the themes that run through the story.