|Martha, the Plot Whisperer|
Why did I call a Plot Whisperer?
I have a manuscript that has been requested by an editor. I want to sell that manuscript. I had a gut feeling that something was not quite right. The ending wasn't giving me goose bumps.
I want people to read it. And readers are more selective. They have so much to read.
Vince said it the other day in his blog here at Seekerville. Vince said, "Having no investment in hundreds of books, makes me much less likely to finish a slow moving book." He also said, "Today, however, selling a book is just the beginning! Authors need to get readers to actually read their books."
So I wanted to make my manuscript the best it could be.
I logged onto her website The Plot Whisperer for Writersand Readers and ordered a two hour consultation. After the consultation, Martha and I decided we wanted to share with you the process in hopes that it can help you develop your plot and/or see how a plot whisperer can help you.
The first thing Martha did was to send me detailed instructions of what I needed to do before our phone call.
1. A LIST OF SCENES
Please develop a list of the scenes you have in the order they appear in your project. If you have any question about what is a scene versus a summary, please refer to BLOCKBUSTER PLOTS Pure & Simple.
If you have not yet written any scenes, make a list of the basic events or circumstances you envision for your project.
2. CHARACTER/EMOTIONAL PLOT INFORMATION
Please fill out the following information for your main character(s)
• Protagonist name
• What stands in his/her way?
• What does he/she stand to lose?
Between now and our plot appointment, think about what you hope to say in the project, the deeper meaning you hope to leave with the reader. This is for the Thematic Significance plotline.
Write your theme as a statement.
TWO DAYS BEFORE THE PHONE CONSULTATION
Please send me via email both the completed Character Emotional Development Plot Profile (#2 above) for your main character, and the Thematic Significance statement (#3 above). (Do NOT send a list of scenes or any other information regarding your project, just the Character Plot Profile and Theme statement ONLY.)
****Hi, Martha here. At this point in the plot consultation process, although some writers send me a bit about their book when they sign-up, this is my first time learning specifics about the protagonist (and, if the writer so wishes, the antagonist and love interest as well). The theme statement the writer sends that best represents what they believe their story is saying gives me a window into the deeper meaning of their stories.
I don’t ask to see the scene list or read a writer’s work because I find it is easier to assess the plot and structure minus the words.
Instead, on the consultation day itself, the writer recounts the scenes of her story to me, beginning with the 4 major turning points in every great story, the 4 energetic markers. I gain insight into the story by what the writer tells me. I gain insight into the writer herself by the way in which she communicates her story.
I feel deeply humble and grateful that writers share their innermost passion with me.
The exciting thing that happened when Martha kept asking me questions is that I began to see the problem myself. She didn’t have to “tell” me.
I wrote all the information about the heroine, but not the hero. When she asked me what his flaw was, I was stumped and saw immediately that I hadn’t given him one. This definitely needs to happen to give him depth and conflict.
She asked me to describe the scenes in the first quarter of the book. She didn’t have to critique them. She simply asked me “Why did that happen?” or “Why did he or she do that?” It made me think about it.
Don’t I already know I need to do this? Of course I do. But sometimes we get so close to our project we think what is in our head is on the paper. And it isn’t. So this process really helped me to see where I had things that weren’t necessary or moving the plot along and also where I needed to add conflict or at least justification of why that scene was there.
****I whole-hearted agree with what you say, Sandra, about thinking what is in our head is on the paper. That is so true, especially so, I find, for writers writing memoirs or who base the protagonist on themselves or someone close to them. They know themselves so well, they forget the readers know nothing but what the author shows and says about the character.
An example of scenes not “moving the plot along and also where I need to add conflict or at least justification of why that scene was there” shows up early in Sandra’s story. (She’s given me permission to talk about her story)
Her first two scenes brilliantly depict the two main characters’ basic personalities and their core challenges, as they have to do with each other and personally. Both characters are strong and compelling and likable. Off to a great start.
The third scene is a conversation with a neighbor. Yes, the information shared helps the reader understand the story set-up but introducing two characters sitting across the kitchen table and talking together immediately drains the story of energy.
Instead, I advise that Sandra keep the energy of the story high scene-by-scene and tightly following cause and effect, at least long enough to draw the reader as deeply into the story as you possibly can before you let up. Tell the reader only what she absolutely has to know to make sense of each scene, for now, in the beginning.
Or, if Sandra is wedded to the scene, then to be sure to get them moving, to take action, preferably doing something that shows another side of your protagonist (a strength, a weakness, a skill, an unusual ability -- something that foreshadows a gift that comes in handy later in the story) and that deepens and broadens the readers understanding of her. In their dialogue together, try not to dump in a lot of backstory information. Keep in mind that one of the surest ways to pull the reader deeper into a story is through the use of curiosity. Don’t give away her backstory. And for sure, not her backstory wound. Not yet. That’s for later.
I’m not necessarily talking about high, external dramatic action. I’m simply advising to keep the story moving. The longer you can, the longer the reader puts off shutting the book. That’s a good thing!
That Sandra sets a ticking clock in this scene is great.
The other thing Martha asked me were questions about my theme. She helped me to define it more clearly and then see if I was staying true to the scene throughout the scenes and especially at the climax and/or end.
***I blogged after my time with Sandra and shared a 5-step Theme Exercise, similar to what I shared with Sandra.
Theme: A Writer’s Touchstone
She didn’t have to do anything with the plot. What she did was make me see the problem and then guided me into finding and discovering my own solution.
*****I generally begin a consultation by asking for the 4 energetic markers (I name each and explain them so there is no confusion about what I’m asking).
The first marker I ask for is the climax. Yes, I start at the end of the story first.
What I love is how, even if the writer isn’t familiar with the terms, we can always find the scenes that function in the capacity of an energetic marker and that turn the story.
This was true with Sandra.
We start with the climax. Sandra recently cut a suspense sub-plot because it did not fit thematic with this story; the story is not a suspense story. Because of the cuts she made (I know how difficult cuts can be and am so impressed by Sandra listening her intuition and doing what needs to be done for the good of the story), she is unsure of what her climax is or even if she truly has one.
As we dig, smack dab in the middle of the wreckage of all the cuts Sandra made in her story glimmers the exact right ending, a climax fitting to her story overall.
Her End of the Beginning scene hits at the exact right place, too. The crisis is there, too, and we discuss ways the scene of most intensity in the story so far can be developed and deepened and expanded further.
That is why Martha can work with a plotter or a panster. I personally am a plotter, but there was a problem with the plot. She didn’t tell me how to solve it. She left that to me. So a plotter or a panster would still have the freedom to work with their own writing style.
You can see from our interaction that the Plot Whisperer really did help me find the weakness in my manuscript. Now I can play around with fixing it. Thank you Martha.
*****Any one who isn’t ready for a plot consultation or simply prefers to go it alone, The Plot Whisperer Workbook: Step-by-Step Exercises to Create More Compelling Stories walks you through the process. Space is provided in the workbook where you can take notes, fill out the 7 essential elements of your scenes, plot scenes out on plot planners, deliberate your themes, and much, much more.
And you know, I have that book, but I didn’t go to it. The consultation is more what I personally needed at this point. Sometimes we just need someone to talk it out.
In honor of our five year birthday bash I am going to pay for a one hour consultation with Martha. One lucky commenter will win the consultation.
Oh I love birthdays. I’m offering you your choice of The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master or the companion workbook, The Plot Whisperer Workbook: Step-by-Step Exercises to Help You Create More Compelling Stories, to 3 lucky commenters today.
And to keep with the theme of fives this month, a fifth winner will receive a copy of Price of Victory. And I'm so excited because as of today the winner can choose between a hard cover copy or KINDLE. I'm in ebook now. woo hoo
Thank you Martha, for joining us today and sharing with Seekerville how exciting it is to work with a Plot Whisperer. I can hardly wait to get started on all the ideas you’ve generated.
Oh yes, Chocolate Velvet coffee is on. A variety of teas and hot chocolate are on the table beside the yummy carrot cake that Martha and I both favor. (And we are sharing it only because we love you too, Seekerville, )
(Yum! Thank you, Sandra. This was a blast! –Oh, dear. “Blast” certainly dates me. Many of you probably are not even familiar with the term anymore.)
Don't forget to log onto the Weekend Edition on Sunday for winners.
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