Wednesday, December 14, 2011
A Book I Want to Recommend for Writers
If I have not been blogging recently, blame it on Martha Alderson's THE PLOT WHISPERER. This paperback book has broken me out of my writing doldrums and has helped focus and align my re-write of a book that had me stumped for awhile—a more serious book than I've written before, dealing with how a family copes with tragedy.
What is so unique about THE PLOT WHISPERER?
For one thing, Alderson has a spiritual approach—and by that, I don't mean religious. She asks you to commit to yourself, to define your own goals, even while defining your main character's goals and commitments. She asks you to examine the deeper themes of your own life, so that you can tap into the deeper themes of your characters' lives.
She also takes the concept of "plot" far beyond the usual focus on story trajectory (rising action, building tension, climax and resolution), tying it into what she calls "The Universal Story", the story that unfolds in each of our own lives and in nature itself. She points out that there are really three plot lines in every great book: the dramatic action plot; the character emotional development plot; and the thematic significance plot. These themes interact with one another and affect each other throughout the entire book, and each has their own resolution.
A word about Alderson's approach to character development: it goes far beyond character description, hobbies, hopes, fears, family constellation, etc. It brings a fresh slant to the question, "What does your character want, and what is keeping him/her from it?" Alderson takes all of this to a deeper dimension; What does the character bring to the point where the story unfolds? What is the history to why your character wants what he or she wants? What is the past "wound" driving the character's goals, giving them such urgency? And how does that affect your MC's reactions to events—reactions that will, in turn, affect the plot?
Alderson counsels you to know those issues about all of your characters, the main ones and the supporting cast. She suggests you must know the themes of their lives as well, their lietmotifs, because—just as in real life—when characters interact, their issues affect each other and the ensuing action. Themes, character and plot interweave and interact throughout the book.
I haven't finished THE PLOT WHISPERER, because Alderson offers thought-provoking exercises that make it a slow and careful read. But, even after reading and applying the first three chapters, disparate parts of my own book are coming together and I can visualize the whole more clearly. I wake up every morning excited to write, completely committed to finishing this draft.
If you feel stuck at any point in your own WIP, I heartily advise getting this book. It's reasonably priced, and you can get it here, and also here (among other sites.) Alderson also has a great blog with tips on plot development. And you can find her You Tube videos in a post by Jill Corcoran. (As a side note, Corcoran posts helpful information about querying and submitting, among other issues that concern writers. Hers is a blog worth visiting regularly.)
How about you? Do you have a writing book to recommend that has worked wonders for you? If so, please post the title here. And let me know if you get Alderson's book or see her videos.