An Interview With The Plot Whisperer

If you’ve been reading my blog lately, you know I have a little writer love for Martha Alderson, aka The Plot Whisperer. 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 facebook.

This woman is AMAZING. As a matter of fact, she’s SO amazing that she offered to do an interview with me 🙂 Her amazingness also made me decide to give away a copy of her book today along with a $15 Amazon Gift Card. If you are looking for books to add to your writing resources, this one is a MUST. 
I loved this book so much that I’ve now labeled it as my Writing Bible. I’ve been wanting one of those and now I have it! 
I suppose we all learn differently, but for me, Martha’s way of teaching works. Not only does she TELL you the correct structural path for a novel, but she SHOWS you examples. I am a visual learner, so this technique allowed me to compare my own WIP to the examples she used. By using examples of some pretty impressive works, she also shows that her method is not just theory but a tried and true way of writing a good book.
CW: Hi Martha! Thanks so much for doing this and congrats on such a phenomenal book.

MA: Hi Charissa, thank you for this opportunity to meet your friends and followers and to introduce writers to your blog who are following along on the Plot Whisperer blog tour. And thank you for your generosity of offering a free book giveaway AND an Amazon gift card!

CW: Your structure of the Universal Story suddenly made everything click into place in my brain. The three phases you discuss, Comfort & Separation, Resistance & Struggle, and Transformation & Return made clear for me what the primary focus of the beginning, middle and end of any novel should be. Of the three, which do you think writers struggle most with and why?
MA: What a joy to hear that the concepts of the Universal Story in The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master resonate with you. Yay!
The greatest struggle comes in the middle of the story both for the story and for writers, too. The middle involves struggle and obstacles and fear and uncertainty, and… a death is involved. Writers resist the anguish by dawdling too long in the safety of the beginning.
The Universal Story whispers of evolution which involves change and change is never easy. Change involves surrender and acceptance. These are not easy traits to embrace for either the protagonist or for writers. The more you struggle and resist the further away you drift from the true prize when your protagonist and you each reach the climax and accomplish your goals.
CW: I was resistant to plotting for a long time. I even welcomed the label of pantser. Once I began learning structure that changed. My tendencies were to write deeply developed characters yet I am highly analytical and detail oriented. I was a pantser by nature (or laziness), but became a plotter by necessity. After reading your descriptions of left-brained vs. right-brained writers under Challenge 2: Not All Writers Are Created Equal, I realized I have a balanced brain. My friends would disagree 😉 However, I think the right side of my brain dominates. What tips can you give writers to learn how to overcome their writing tendency weaknesses so that both sides of their brain work together?
MA: I believe you have hit on one of the best strategies for writers to use to overcome their writing weaknesses and support both sides of the brain to work together in balance. Explore and discover who you are as a writer.
What skills and strengths do you bring to the craft of writing?
Which ones will you benefit from learning in the course of writing your story?
The more conscious you are of your strengths and weaknesses the better able you are to understand what builds your energy to write and what kills your enthusiasm and passion for your story. You can unplug from the feelings of alienation and uncertainty by not taking personally the challenges that confront you. The more you know about your strengths and weaknesses as a writer, the wiser you become at spotting them as opportunities to grow and change.
CW: One of the things I did when I began writing again was writing backstory so that I could better understand my characters, their emotions and fears. I found myself bringing too much of that backstory into the beginning of my novel. I thought the reader needed ALL that info.  I quickly learned that was a no-no. How can a writer determine which parts of the backstory to include in their novel? 
MA: I recommend writing the first draft all the way from the beginning to the end one time with absolutely no back story other than how that back story influences the protagonist’s reactions in scene in real story time.
CW: This question is from Reader Jessie: Do you have any tips for tying stray characters into the plot line?
MA: Hi Jessie. Thank you for your question. I recommend drawing a plot planner line for the secondary characters above the master plot line. Next, plot out the sequence of the secondary character’s plot lines true to the timeline of the master plot. This way you can “see” the entire story with all its parts to better determine how to tie stray characters into the plot line.
CW: And from Reader Wendy: Why do you think so many writers struggle with determining the protagonist goal?
MA: Usually writers who struggle with determining the protagonist’s goal also struggle in determining their own goals, too.
Many of us drift through life, doing the next thing that has to be done as determined by those around us, by society, our families, jobs, and our relationships. We often have a big picture vision of our lives and where we are headed yet struggle to bring that vision down to its measurable parts.
Practice goal setting by creating concrete and measurable goals for yourself. Write them down. Then break the long-term goals into short-term daily goals. Write those on your calendar and follow day-by-day.
The more you practice on yourself, the better you will become at creating concrete measurable goals for your protagonist. The more you practice on your protagonist, the better you will be at creating goals for yourself.
Happy plotting,
Martha Alderson aka Plot Whisperer
Many thanks to Martha for this fabulous book and for visiting the blog today!! Be sure to comment to enter to win the book and gift card. Also…I’m sure Martha would be happy to answer any questions about her book or plot that you might have.

You can also check her out today over at Sherri Petersen’s blog, Write About Now. Tomorrow, Martha will be hosted over at Vivian Lee Mahoney’s blog. For a full listing of blog tour stops, including the final stop with Debbie Ridpath Ohi, click here

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  1. Now this is simply amazing! My first time stopping in and on such a fabulous book!!! I love a catchy title like that and I believe you can never learn too much about your craft! Add me to the list, I'm interested!

    Thank you for this fabulous interview and I look forward to future posts!! Happy Wednesday!

  2. Hi Charissa!

    Thank you for hosting a stop on today's Plot Whisperer blog tour AND for offering a book giveaway and Amazon gift card.

    I'll stop in throughout the day to answer questions or just join in the discussion.

    Fun to read what writers write…

    Thanks again,

    martha aka plot whisperer

  3. Hi VDGriesdoorn,

    Not tired like in fatigue. More like exhausted from excitement. Truly. I think being excited, as much as the energy fills me up, is like trying to sustain too much tension in your story — I'm writing the answers to tomorrow's interview on Vivian's blog.

    The light waiting at the end of the tour excites me — a new workshop idea that I hope becomes my next book proposal…

    Hi Jen and Julia,

    fun to hear from you both!

  4. I have happy memories of my after-nanowrimo december 2010, learning about plot with videos, mapping it out on my story. Less fond memories about the next months fixing all the holes I discovered. This year, I am gearing up with a plot…

  5. If you're following along on the blog tour, Judy, at yesterday's stop, I gave some pointers about how to not only create a plot for your story but to also plot out your writing time so you end up with an actual beginning, middle and end.

    No amount of pre-plotting can get you to the prize on the last day of November. A smart writing strategy can…

  6. @Judy Kohnen Thanks for stopping by Judy! Martha has offered a road map for writing a novel in her book. By seeing the different essential moments as well as the energetic markers, I have been able to see my WIP in a new light. I wish I could give everyone a copy of this book!! If you don't win, buy it. You will be glad you did 🙂

  7. Ooh, I'm dying to get myself a copy of this book. I have the BLOCKBUSTER one and it's really been helpful. I am always, always looking for new insight into plotting.

  8. Hi Martha & Charissa,

    Thank you both for a wonderful interview. As I follow this blog tour, it feels like I am on a journey of discovery!

    Thanks so much,

    Jan K.

  9. Loved the interview! Plot Whisperer is definitely on my wish list. I absolutely LOVE Martha Alderson! I have Blockbuster Plots and the Plot Guide for Children's Book Authors. I also love her Youtube channel. I don't know where my writing would be without her. I have been working on a novel for a year and plot has been my biggest obstacle. With Martha's books, ebooks and videos, my story has come together more than it did last year.

  10. Everyone is so incredibly kind on this blog tour. Writers rock!

    Thank you, Kathy, for all your kind and generous words. That any of my support has helped keep you at the business of writing and positive about the experience fills me with joy.

  11. I refer to Martha Alderson as my Muse of the West Coast. I've followed her for a couple years now, had a two-hour plot consultation with her in June 2010, and used her previous book, Blockbuster Plots Pure & Simple, as my go-to guide as I worked on my manuscript (which I just submitted last week). Not only that, but she has instilled in me a fascination for dragonflies, since it is her icon, and I wear them as earrings, have them around the house in various art pieces, and rejoice when I see live ones in the yard. The Plot Whisperer is pretty much my hero! I heart her big time. DJ in GA

  12. Hi Denise,

    How fun to find you here!

    I heart you big time, too.

    Thank you for your generosity.

    And, Charissa, Thank you for a wonderful day. Odds are good for the participants in the book giveaway. Exciting to know another writer will soon be taking home a book. Oh, and then there's the gift card…

    plot whisperer

  13. I love finding new ways to look at plot. I'm no pantser, but I can't outline meticulously, either. I find that these kinds of general structures give me a general path to follow and make my stories stronger–and sometimes figure out what's missing. I'd love a chance to win! Thanks both of you for the informative interview!

  14. Martha: What a revelation when you say that writers who struggle with determining their protagonist's goals also struggle with their own. Looks like you had me in mind when you said that. So now, back to my desk to determine my own goals.
    Thank you.

  15. @Annette Lyon Hi Annette! And I totally agree…the structure Martha lays out is tried and true and it really makes things so much easier. You are able to see marking points for the path of the novel instead of blank pages. Thanks for stopping by!

  16. Another wonderful interview! I'm using everything I'm learning in the blog tour to plot my new novel, and possibly to replot an old one too!