Friday, April 7, 2017

Best of Archives: Finding Strongest Story Climax with Martha Alderson, Plot Whisperer

Sandra here, to introduce to you a special friend I met at the Desert Dreams conference April 2012.  Martha Alderson is the Plot Whisperer.  She has a wonderful gift that helps the author bring out the best in their plot.

After finishing your novel in Speedbo, you will want to go over it and make sure you have all the plot points you need. Below are the key points to look for. If you feel you need more in-depth guidance, Martha's workbook, The Plot Whisperer is a wonderful guide. 

She wrote the book THE PLOT WHISPERER and if you've ever had a chance to study it, you will agree it is a terrific aid in developing plot.

I asked Martha to join us today because this week her new workbook is debuting.  It is a wonderful aid in applying the techniques taught in her book.

Martha, can you give us a sample of the kind of thing we will find in The PLOT WHISPERER WORKBOOK?
Finding the Strongest Climax 

In the buildup to the climax of a story, the protagonist must keep her wits and strength about her. She may enter the final quarter of the story relatively weak. When she meets with an antagonist who is stronger than she is, the protagonist still can be knocked off course. When that happens, she is forced to readjust her course and follow an altered direction toward her goal. Still, during the entire final quarter of the story, the energy of the story moves steadily higher. Even when she meets up with a stronger force and needs a change of tactic, she is steadily climbing upward toward her goal.

The stronger the pressure is against her, the greater the strength the protagonist gains when she confronts and overcomes that force. The greater the force is against her, the bigger the change in her direction. The more dramatic the change in direction, the greater excitement and anticipation in the reader and audience.

The amount of power and strength, confidence and esteem gained and lost by the protagonist at the end and the degree of change in direction toward her goal determines when the energy of the story is at its greatest. As she gains more and more strength, her interactions will weaken her antagonists and may result in the actual destruction of her foes (internal and external). Finally, the words she speaks and the ideas she voices are heard and, for the first time, actually make an impact. The stronger the foe being destroyed by the protagonist makes for a stronger climax at the end.

A story is all about relationships. How a protagonist interacts with others in the beginning and the middle of the story predicts the self-knowledge she needs to gain to prevail at the end. Her relationship with nature, friends, family, community, her faith—or lack thereof—predicts the self-knowledge she needs for transformation. How she interacts with herself is the greatest predictor of all.

The protagonist suffers in the middle of the story to gain strength and courage and to learn to trust herself. To withstand modification and alterations, the protagonist must assess her values and ideas she has been taught and her beliefs around those ideas. She must ultimately assess life itself and her part in it.

What Doesn’t Work

I am often asked what the #1 problem writers have with plot. My answer varies, depending on the most recent plot consultation or plot workshop I've just done.

Today I say as I have before, the #1 plot problem writers struggle with is the climax and resolution.

So much time and thought and writing goes into developing a compelling protagonist with a mysterious back story, deciding where is the exact right beginning of the story, how to make the action exciting and the book concept big, the details just right, the dialogue snappy, the setting exotic, the crisis disastrous.

I rarely (and I mean rarely) find a writer who has thoroughly thought out the climax and written the end quarter of the story as many times or more than the beginning.

Sure, writers bog down in the middle and thus the climax seems incredibly far away -- nearly out of reach. By the time a writer limps her way to the climax, the story is lucky to have an ending at all, much less an ending that is meaningful and different and leaves the reader satisfied and wanting more.

The end of a romance novel, even if it is for a teen, especially if it is for a teen, is so much more than... they lived happily ever after. You have been so careful not to use clichéd phrases, metaphors, settings and have worked to make every element uniquely your own. Why settle for a clichéd ending?

When a character rises in triumph at the climax, what does she look like, act like? In the resolution, what does the world look like now that she is new and different and transformed and has shared the gift she came to share?

Take an ending you're sure has no value and turn it on its ear. See the ending from a different angle or perspective. Write that.

Strive to give the reader something new and fresh and miraculous...

The Story End

That fabulous beginning of your story and that wild twist in the middle do not count nearly as much as to a reader as the end of the story. Sure, you hope she looks back and sees how everything is seamlessly tied together. In fact, what she’s going to think about first is how the story ends.

Readers and audiences are affected first and foremost emotionally by the story they read, whether the story evokes fear or anger, joy and celebration, or sadness and resignation. Connecting with readers emotionally to the point they become instinctively involved in the story is the dream of every writer. The best place to search for this emotional effect is at the climax.

Think Different
Look beyond the words and sentences and scenes to the deeper pattern of your story. Every protagonist begins a story wanting something. The real reason that she goes after what she wants never (or rarely) is her stated reason. In fact, at the end of the story the protagonist can, and often does, fail at her stated goal. The reader cares because she knows the protagonist has actually won what she wanted and all that really matters is herself. She has gained self-knowledge and because of that she has been changed and transformed.

After having all of her layers stripped away one by one as false or unreliable, the protagonist reaches the point where she either must break down and live an unlived life or stand straight and rely on herself. To do that, first she must find the self on which she can rely. This is why often in a story, the protagonist’s stated goal fades and is replaced by the real goal.

This is an excerpt from Martha Alderson, aka the Plot Whisperer, new plot workbook: The Plot Whisperer Workbook: Step-by-Step Exercises to Help You Create Compelling Stories – a companion workbook to The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master (Adams Media, a division of F + W Media).

She has also written Blockbuster Plots Pure & Simple (Illusion Press) and several ebooks on plot, including one for romance writers.

As an international plot consultant for writers, Martha’s clients include best-selling authors, New York editors, and Hollywood movie directors.

She teaches plot workshops to novelists, memoirists, and screenwriters privately, at plot retreats, through Learning Annex, RWA, SCBWI, CWC chapter meetings, at writers' conferences and Writers Store where she takes writers beyond the words and into the very heart of a story.

As the founder of Blockbuster Plots for Writers and December, International Plot Writing Month, Martha manages the award-winning blog for writers, awarded by Writers Digest 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012.

Her blog, How Do I Plot a Novel, Memoir, Screenplay covers 27 steps to plotting your story from beginning to end:

Sandra again.  Please check out the above links.  The last one, How Do I Plot a Novel features YouTube lessons to watch.

Find Martha on Facebook

Thank you again, Martha for joining us today.

I brought Martha's favorite treat---carrot cake with lots of yummy cream cheese frosting.  And to go with that we have a huge pot of chocolate velvet coffee, a selection of flavored ice teas (raspberry and green tea is really refreshing and so is the peach and chai).

No comments today so that we can get busy going over those plot points.

Sandra Leesmith writes sweet romances to warm the heart. Sandra loves to play pickleball, hike, read, bicycle and write. She is based in Arizona, but she and her husband travel throughout the United States in their motorhome and enjoy the outdoors. You can find Sandra's books here on Amazon. Three of Sandra's most popular books are also audio books at Audible. You can read more of Sandra's posts here.