Tuesday, October 25, 2011


(Or, Newest Member of the Plotting Club)

Congratulations to JUDY KOHNEN, winner of Martha Alderson's The Plot Whisperer.

Judy, please send your address to me at mkaley3 (at) gmail (dot) com. You are SO lucky to get this copy. Cue the standing ovation. Thanks, Martha, for the interview and for all the comments to the readers.

And, a few drums are rolling for our informal survey (using the NAE Ninja Science methodology, of course). The question was, are you a Plotter or are you a Pantser. The results:

Plotters: 37.9%
Pantsers: 34.5%
Combo PlotPantsers: 27.6%

Which can only mean one thing. 62% of us really need Martha's book. And the 38% who are plotters? They also crave this book. It's true. Read the comments.

Thanks to everyone for participating. *blows kisses*

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Critiquerly Interview with Martha Alderson

(Or, Whisper Me a Plot and Win a Book)

In my last post, I alluded to the possibility of a Personal Change of Being. I may have just morphed, my fine, fine, writerly friends, from being a pantser to a plot planner. I’ve ripped open the seams of my current WiP, and started to sew a plot structure for not one, but two future WiPs.

And I’m going to share my big secret with you. It’s Martha Alderson, otherwise known as The Plot Whisperer.

I think I first came to know about Martha through a twitter link that took me to her vlog series. I watched the entire series in a day (all 27 of them), and within the next few weeks, I had my entire online critique group involved in a workshop centered around her videos. Some of us are fixing plot problems in current WiPs, and others are getting ready for nanowrimo.

This is why I’m falling over with a general stokedness today. Because Martha is here. On Not an Editor. With her thoughts about critiquing. And? She’s got some thought-provoking answers.


Martha Alderson has worked with hundreds of writers in sold-out plot workshops, retreats, and plot consultations for more than fifteen years. Her clients include bestselling authors, New York editors, and Hollywood movie directors. She lives in Santa Cruz, CA. Follow her blogworkshops, vlog, or follow her on twitter and faceboook.


NAE: After a writer gets back an in-depth critique, what would you recommend in terms of a review/revise process?

MA: I suggest that the writer sit with the input for a few days and let the information sink in and feel the effects of the feedback emotionally. Then, based on what the in-depth critique reveals, I suggest that the writer pull out a fresh piece of banner paper and re-plot the entire story on a new Plot Planner, incorporating the feedback that feels valid to her. Then, she can stand back and, minus the words, view her story as a whole and assess how the energy of the story rises and falls.

NAE:  What is the one piece of advice you can give to someone trying to develop his or her critique skills?

MA: Let me answer your question this way, I believe one of the best things a critiquer can do is always to separate the story from the writer. The story is the beginning and middle and end as a whole that involves characters and mostly one character as she is confronted with challenges and undergoes a meaningful transformation. The story is always whole and complete. The writer, on the other hand, in attempting to translate wisps of inspiration to the page is only as good as her current developmental skill level of writing.
When something is not working, it's not the story that is problematic, it is the writer as she continues to grow and study and reach for mastery over the story-telling process.

NAE: When you critique someone’s work, what is your general process?

MA: I never critique writers' work. I have found as a plot consultant to writers that I cannot see the forest (plot and structure) for the trees (words). Plot consultations focus exclusively on the master plot, which is made up of the action, character and thematic plot lines or, in other words, the form and structure. Writers are asked to have on hand a list of scenes from their projects and an idea of the message they are hoping their story will convey.

By pushing aside the words, I am better able to see the deeper structure of the story and assess what is working and what needs work.

NAE: Is there one specific thing that you gravitate toward while critiquing?

MA: I am most interested in how the dramatic action of the story affects the protagonist and how she transforms overtime and what that means overall. Minus the luster of words and phrases is the structure or form of the writer’s expression. Mysteries and depth are hiding in the stories right now. It is in the interlocking plotlines that they reveal themselves.


Thanks, Martha, for including us in your new book release blog tour, which gives me one last exciting announcement. I have a copy of The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master, and I’m ready to send it to one lucky winner. All you have to do is leave a comment below. If you’d like to tweet about this contest, I’ll smile sweetly and say thanks. Mr. Random Generator will pick our winner, to be announced next Tuesday. Of course, now that you’ve met Martha, you may not be able to wait to get her book. You. Want. This. Book.*

And here’s something I’d like to know in your comments today: Are you a pantser or a planner?

*Seriously. You do, you want this book. I’ve kept it by my side when I writer and critique ever since it’s found its way into my hands a few weeks ago.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

How-tos: Getting Your Full WiP Critiqued

(Or, Network, Plan, and Wait)

Okay. Yes, I know. I’ve been a smidge absent lately. I’m back in the saddle, reading everyone’s blog entries (so many fab ones!), critiquing for my writerly friends, and editing my own writing. I may even get back to Twitter soon (I heart my goat posse!). I’ve been a bit busy with a stuff going on in my real life, and also writing stuff. Writerly speaking, there’s something that has grabbed my attention and forced me to take a new look at the plots in my WiP, and (cue the shock) the plots of my upcoming WiPs. Now, I’ve been a total Pantser (vs. Planner) when it comes to writing. But I might just transform into a Planner, and I’ll tell you why.

But not until Thursday. I’m interviewing the person who has caused this shift in me, the change that’s gotten me soaked in the Planner mode over the past two weeks.

And? I’m going to give away her awesome writerly advice book on Thursday, too. Don’t. Miss. It. You want this book.

But that’s not the subject of this post. I want to dive into full critiques, since I’m doing a lot of them lately. We’ve already discussed chapter-by-chapter critiques, and now it’s time to talk about beta reads. Not the usual how-do-you-critique in beta reads, since I have a couple of posts coming up that will address this, but how to handle the process when your own WiP is ready for betas. If you are an experienced beta critiquer, please (please!) feel free to add and share.

1.       Celebrate. You’ve completed your first draft. Put it away and order a pizza or pour yourself a mug of your best wine. Eat some chocolate (my current fave: Fanny May mint chocolate squares), taking tiny bites and savoring the delicious melting euphoria that only chocolate can offer. Go dancing, sky diving, or some other adequately spirit-bolstering activity. Forget about your draft for at least a week, maybe two. You’re in celebration mode. If you must write, begin a new story.

2.       Read your WiP again. Of course, this step comes after the celebratory step with the week’s worth of wait in between. The best draft to send out to betas is a to-your-knowledge-perfect draft. Or, almost perfect. There might be things that you think can improve, but you can’t put your finger on how to fix it. That’s okay—that’s what critiquerly friends are for But, sentences that are missing words or 987 occurrences of the word very in your text? This is not what you want to burn your beta readers on. You’d like them to focus on those things that you can’t see or fix for yourself. You owe yourself one more read-through.

3.       Network. Hopefully, you’ve been working on your writerly contacts all along. You’ve visited writer’s group websites, blogs, attended conferences, and you know a group of people who you respect, who like you, and who’d love to work with you. In fact, you’d love (love!) to work with them, too. Even if your WiP isn’t quite ready, you can establish relationships and read/comment on other writers’ completed WiPs. It’s time consuming and a whole chunk of work, but the benefits way, way outweigh the drawbacks. Because now? You’ve got your group of serious-minded writers who adore you.

4.       Keep in Touch. When you’ve networked and you’ve done your part in critiquing other WiPs, make sure you keep in touch with these wonderful writerly people until your WiP is ready for them. Let them know every so often where you are with your efforts, and when you think you might need them to beta read/critique.

5.       Plan. As you get to know your critiquerly partners (CPs), you’ll get a general sense of their strengths. You’ll want your critiquerly pie well represented. Some CPs might be better with plot, some with character development. Touch all bases with your betas, and try to do so in logical sequence. Maybe you send your WiP to one or two betas to start, so the next set of betas can focus their specific efforts on a cleaner WiP.

6.       Ask for what you’d like. CP #1 is great with emotions and character depth, so tell her how much you appreciate her talent, and ask her to pay special attention to this in your WiP. Maybe you think you need extra focus on characters X and Z. Ask her. She’ll be happy to give feedback, especially with the green light you’ve flashed her.

7.       Wait. Patiently. It’s a good idea to let your CPs know your overall timeline if you have one, especially if you’re sending beta reads out to phased groups. However, you can’t control what is going on in everyone’s lives. If you haven’t heard from a CP in a long while, check in to make sure they’ve received it without pressuring them to finish. Once you’ve gotten your feedback, wait again before you revise. Let the ideas sink in. The solutions may be utterly obvious, but maybe not. Maybe you’ll come up with a better solution if you let it stew. Put your critiques in the slow cooker and let the ideas waft a while.

8.       Drool with profuse amounts of gratitude. Your fantastic CPs have just read your 50,000-or-so-maybe-more word WiP, have focused as hard as they could on open opportunities in the pages, loved your characters almost as much as you do, and have taken the time to write up their thoughts. It’s a hard thing to do, and it takes skill. Love them for it, and then let them know how much you love them for it.

What else do you do when you send your WiP out for beta reads? I’d love to hear your experiences.