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.

51 comments:

Plot Whisperer said...

Hi Mary!
Thank you for the opportunity to interact with your readers and to introduce new readers/writers to your blog.
I'll be fascinated to learn how many of those who respond are pantsers (a writer who jumps right in and writes by the seat of her pants) versus plotters (a writer who plans and pre-plots before writing).
Let's get this party started!
I'll off to tweet and FB about you.
Be back soon...
fondly,
martha

The Angel - n- The Blue-Eyed One said...

Plotter. Maybe Over Plotter...

Paula said...

Pantser! Seems like when I attempt to plot I get so into it then can't turn my points into the story. I keep trying but pantsing ends up working best for me. I think I must black out and then I wake up and the book is done.

Paige Cuccaro said...

Hi Martha!
Your book sounds great. I am most definitely a plotter. I tried being a pantsers (it sounds so freeing...all the cool kids are pantsers) but I just kept writing myself into corners. So I plot...everything. I've tried all sorts of methods (the W plot, Goal Conflict & motivation, The Hero's Journey, colored highlighters, etc...) In the end I use a kind of mishmash of them all. But I have to have an outline of the whole book before I start writing and then I often go back and write scene summaries chapter by chapter.
I think what I need is a good critique partner, but it's so hard to find someone you trust and respect who also has the time.
~Paige

Jill said...

I do a little of both. The plot thickens when I become a pantser.

Jill

Jean said...

I used to be only a pantser but as I've grown as a writer over the years, I've become more of a plotter. And while I may still take off by the seat of the pants, there comes a time when I have to sit and plot to see where I'm really going.

Plot Whisperer said...

Hi The Angel,
Good point and well said.
Plotting requires the cooperation of your analytical mind, which can turn on you. When you're plotting and planning and researching... you're not writing.

Anonymous said...

plotter, but not too much or i get bored when i'm writing.

Shari Green said...

Yes, I definitely do want this book! ;) Martha, your video series has helped me immensely. I'm a pantser, and to some extent I think I'll always be a pantser. But after a pantsed, hole-filled draft one, I plot. And then I revise (a lot). Might not seem like the most efficient method, but so far, it's what works for me.

Plot Whisperer said...

I love that, Paula -- I black out and then the book is done.
To black out sounds like a one-two punch to the internal critic as well... Congratulations!

Sarah E. Olson said...

I try to plot first, but I find that I don't know what the story is until I write it. So - I write a story so I can FIND THE STORY, then I plot it out.

It's like sculpting. You have to dig for clay (or buy it at the store) first, then you can shape it. So, my first draft is digging for clay, then in subsequent drafts, I make that clay into something beautiful (hopefully).

Dee Bibb said...

I am a pantser that is attempting to change my mode of writing to becoming a plotter. I have watched the video series as well and it has been extremely helpful. I would love to have this book!

jenniecoughlin said...

I'm halfway in between. I usually have a big picture and a sketch of the scenes coming in the next few chapters, but I can't work off a detailed outline. (Also why I love reading mysteries but can't write them.)

juniperjenny said...

I am a plotter down to my toes. It's developing the plot, connecting the dots, that gets me writing in the first place. I consider plotting the fun part, followed distantly by editing. The writing part is just grueling, frankly! Martha, I'm loving your videos! SO helpful - can't wait to read your book.

Janet Kerr said...

Hello Mary & Martha,

One day I was on the Net and read a true crime story and I said to myself, “I can do that.” And I did. I just sat down and wrote and they bought my short stories. So I guess this made me a Panster.
But, very soon I realized that there was so much more to learn about the Elements of Fiction, that it was far afield from academic writing, and I became a Plotter.
And now, I found Plot Planner and this has been the most comprehensive information on plotting and I am just starting out with this wonderful, wonderful tool.

Jan

Kim C. said...

The books sounds great! I'm a plotter as well. :) Your video series has been very helpful.

Plot Whisperer said...

Hi Paige,

I met a young girl -- 8 years old or so?? at my book launch a couple nights ago who's name is Paige. She got such a kick out the fact her name is Paige and she's a writer.

Sounds like your system is working for you. Congratulations!

Plot Whisperer said...

Hi Jill,

Love that -- the plot thickens when I become a pantser. Nice!

Plot Whisperer said...

Hi Jean,

Thanks for visiting and commenting.

I do believe in the dance between plotting and pantsing. To write until you can't anymore and then plot again until the passion returns (which always does click back in sooner or later)

Judy Kohnen said...

My first novel was supposed to take 12 months. it debuted as a Nanowrimo panster, the end had no pop, and lots of fizzle. I spent time with Martha's plotbuster video and identified the reasons why. The story was a thinly disguised travelogue - plot was secondary to setting, even my main character was secondary. I broke it apart to add the missing plot and it sprouted into 2 separate pansters stories with all kinds of characters introducing themselves, seemingly hijacking the storyline, but they were nudged along by theme and plot. I am a combo panster and plotter, can't get seem to get around either one.

kathi h said...

This was great and timely. I am putting together an online program for judges of contests. Because many of the Chapter contests include feed back ( a critique of sorts) I am always looking for more information. I have added your facebook page to my favorites and will recommend to my friends. thanks for this.

Kathi Robb Harris
http://www.kathiHwriter.com

kathi h said...

Mary, I love your blog and read it as often as time allows. Keep up the good work.
Kathi Robb Harris

Plot Whisperer said...

Hi Sarah,

None of us, plotters or pantsers, truly know our stories until we WRITE all the way to the climax. Perfect time to stand back from all those words and find the true plot and structure.

Thus, the benefit of Nano for the writing and PlotWriMo for the re-vision of the overall plot and structure, theme and character arc

Plot Whisperer said...

So glad to hear you benefitted from the plot video series on Youtube.

Last night my partner in crime filming it and I checked out a professional film crew down the street filming a movie about a famous Mavericks surfer.

The amount of equipment humbled us when we saw first-hand just how far we have to go to be even semi-good at this...

kathi h said...

Oh, I forgot to mention how I write. I am a spherical writer. LOL. I start with a tiny kernal of a beginning, sometimes just a great title! Then I start writing and see who appears and identify what they want, what they need and where they are headed. ( About 3 chapters). then I write the darkest dark moment I can for the main character. I really put them through H$ll. with that as the target, I write the rest of the book never losing sight of that black moment and how I am going to get them out.
It works for me.

L.B. Schulman said...

I am definitely a plotter. (Right now I am trying to analyze the plot of the HUNGER GAMES on my website so I can better understand what works and what doesn't.) But there is still so much to know, and I have so many questions I have been unable to find the answer to, such as can the antagonist show up at any point in the story or do they have to make an appearance or be alluded to in the opening act? That kind of thing drives me whacky.

Plot Whisperer said...

Hi Jennie and Juniper!
Such fun reading about everyone's process.
Thanks for stopping by. Hope you'll continue along on the tour...

Plot Whisperer said...

Thank you, Janet!!! What a thrill to hear how you have connected to the Plot Planner. Using the bigger muscles of our bodies by drawing in the Plot Planner and fiddling around with scenes often seems to almost magically loosen up both sides of the brain and inspires writing.

scribblingpencil said...

Pantser. I tried plotting once and then overplotted and wound up throwing half of it away. I have yet to find a plot process that works for me. Unfortunately, while people can explain how to plot, I'm more of a visual person so I pick things up better that way.

-Nellie

Plot Whisperer said...

Oh, really, Nellie... then you may like the Plot Planner approach to plot and plotting. From one visual learner to another...
I'm just saying... the new book... you win it... you like it...
Does that sound like shameless self-promotion. Not my intent...

Plot Whisperer said...

I have a feeling I may have missed responding to some of you wonderful writers. My apologies.

I suddenly feel as if a ton of bricks slipped from my shoulders. It's been a wild year of writing and getting the book out in time for NaNo. Now that the book is safely launched, I feel light enough to fly.

Thank you, Mary, for a great day. Love meeting your peeps and to all the writers following the tour, see you tomorrow. Another day... another blog...

I'm soaring...

Lots of love (I heart right back at you!),
martha aka plot whisperer

jennysararyan said...

i am a terrible plotter! i would love this book.

Penny Rader said...

Bit of both, probably leaning more toward plotter. I need have an idea of what I'm writing toward even if I don't know exactly how I'm going to get there.

Marewolf said...

I want this book! Tweeting now :)

And I'm a pantser slowly turning into plotter, and glad of it :)

Love you, little missy!

Heather Marsten said...

A bit of both - but some think I lose the plot at times in my writing, so the book would be helpful.
Heather

VDGriesdoorn said...

Hey Mary,

I'm definitely a plotter. First I let my idea percolate for a while. When I start, I write all my ideas down and divide them in the stages of a story (you know opening, inciting event, raising the stakes, climax, denouement and such). When I start the story I build it layer by layer (what some people call the snowflake method). I first write all the dialogue with some character traits and location; then add location and exposition; then add character and internalisation; last I add detail. So when I finish this and have my first draft, I've already written beginning to end four times, and really have done four drafts. :)

Building like this also gives me time to really get to know my characters and let's me develop a character arc that I'll use in the character draft.

It sounds confusing and a lot of work, but the great thing is also that the drafts go really fast. And starting over so often keeps everything fresh.

I would really love to win Martha's book. It would be a great resource in deepening the several drafting stages!

Victoria

RAD - Dot Painter said...

I'm a total planner. I love Martha's sticky-note plotting technique. It has helped me so much! - Rachel

deepercolors said...

tried to post a comment and it took me to another screen to tell me that I needed to sign in. Couldn't get back to this screen with my comment intact. Having to start all over now. Sigh.
I am definitely a pantser. I have had characters take off and practically write themselves before. I attended a workshop Martha gave at out writers club before. (South Bay branch of the California Writers Club) and learned a lot. I am sure the book will be just as great.

deepercolors said...

Then it asked me to authorize my identity to blogger.com. Then it showed an encrypted word I had to match and then... it asked me for that authorization a second time. Arrrrgh. If I didn't know that Martha's book would be so good I would have given up in frustration several steps back. But it's worth it. :-]

Kayeleen Hamblin said...

I usually write a vague outline with an end in mind. I fill in a few details and then go with the flow. Sometimes, I hit all the major points and sometimes, the story takes a different turn all together. I need the structure of the outline to start out, but I also need the freedom to let it change as it grows.

KatyD said...

I'm a bit of both, too, but I've discovered that I'm much more productive when I have a strong idea about where I'm going, therefore, I need to learn to create a solid plot before I begin.

Plot Whisperer said...

Hi Mary,

I love that you're allowing more writers to take part in winning a free copy of the Plot Whisperer book and that I have more time to win a coveted top 10 spot!

Sending bushels of gratitude your way...

fondly,
martha alderson ask plot whisperer

Anne Beggs said...

All such inspiring posts. Thanx to Martha I found this blog. Her books are very well written and de-mystify the core elements of plot in ways that pansters like me can understand. That said,my characters, too, tend to hijack my stories (their stories) and I'm grateful I have The Plot Whisperer to help direct us all back. Read on, plot on...and ultimately, write on.

kitforbes said...

I'm a pantser with a loose plan. I know what incites the plot, I generally have a highlight or two for the middle and a vague idea of how it winds up.

I need to find out "what happens next" along with the characters or I get bored but I do wish I was better at working with a more detailed structure.

S. M. Worth said...

I really needed to plot more before this year's NaNoWriMo. Even if I win this book will never be here in time for NaNoWriMo!

Lucas said...

Hi, I would like to have this copy. I need to figure out how I get my story to a satisfying end :)...
I'm 66% planner.

Marybk said...

------Contest closed. We have a winner!! TBA------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Wakefield Mahon said...

I tend to be a hybrid, which has shown in some of my early drafts. Some times I get a burst of emotional inspiration and write a piece with beautiful rich language that I have to scrap because there is no story. Other times I have a brilliant story that I just have to work to bring into form.

Thank you for this article and interview.

Maricar said...

I'm a planner. I like to have the story outlined by chapter. If I know where the story is going, I'm better motivated to get there.

Thanks for hosting Martha's blog tour!

Susa Silvermarie said...

I'm a pantser in process of cajoling myself into planning with the mantra, It will work it will work it will work!

Dawn said...

Too late for the contest, but not too late to send appreciations for the blog!

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