Thickening the Plot

ae maldersonLocal ‘Plot Whisperer’ shares the secrets of story structure

Do you have a story you’ve been struggling to write that seems to lie limp on the page? What you may need is structure—and the Plot Whisperer can help you.

Santa Cruz author Martha Alderson adopted the name “Plot Whisperer” after working with hundreds of writers in plot workshops, retreats and individual consultations. With clients that include bestselling authors, New York editors and Hollywood movie directors, Alderson has a gift in helping writers navigate the often arduous task of writing and realizing the novel, memoir or screenplay of their dreams.

“It’s my passion,” says Alderson. “What I really love is that there is this basic rhythm that seems to be there, whether the writer knows it’s there or not. I call it the Universal Story. It’s almost like it is this rhythm that is part of the storytelling paradigm. When that rhythm is not there, the story falls apart.”

In her 2011 book “The Plot Whisperer—Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master,” Alderson revealed the elements of the Universal Story, as well as how writers can structure their narratives to hit the basic rhythm markers that make a story thrum. Now, as a companion to the first book, Adams Media is about to release Alderson’s latest book, “The Plot Whisperer Workbook—Step-by-Step Exercises that Help You Create Compelling Stories.”

To celebrate the release, the public is invited to join Alderson in a launch party on Tuesday, Aug. 28 at Bookshop Santa Cruz. Not only will there be a cake decorated to match the cover of the book, but Alderson promises to unveil five basic plot secrets that will bring life to your writing project. Following a Q&A session, Alderson will sign copies of her books.

“I think this is a very visual approach,” says Alderson, describing the tools her workbook offers to aspiring authors. “When you’re at the writing level, it’s hard to see the overall structure. Writers who are very visual and even kinesthetic do well with this (approach) because they are able to plot out scenes, then stand back and see the whole.”

ae plotwhisperThe workbook consists of a series of worksheets with story maps and questionnaires that writers can fill out, and then use the information gleaned to continue with their stories.

“When writers start to freak out, rather than give up or go back to the beginning again, I hope that they’ll fill out the workbook and things will start popping—then they’ll go back to writing again,” Alderson explains. “They should know that every time they visit the workbook, something will happen and they’ll go back to the story again. The ideas and prompts will push you to the next energetic marker and, before you know it, you’ll be at the end.”

Though the two books can be read on their own, they’re meant to be used hand-in-hand, with the original “Plot Whisperer” book as a guide and the workbook as a place to try out the techniques with your own story.

“I wrote the workbook expecting that writers would have read ‘The Plot Whisperer’ first, because there’s not a lot of description in the workbook,” Alderson says. “You could read the workbook and fill out the templates and questions without reading the book, but ‘The Plot Whisperer’ book is a resource for a more in-depth process.”

Rather than an empty plot recipe, both “Plot Whisperer” books revolve around theme and meaning, helping the writer to develop a story that not only works structurally, but says something significant.

“What I find fascinating when I work with writers, is that often those meaningful moments are already there in their books, but they haven’t developed them in order to make the most impact,” says Alderson. “So when I can show (writers) the significance of a scene, how it functions thematically and energetically in the particulars of the story, then they get a different understanding of the story and they start to trust themselves a little more.”

As far as the importance of mastering plot, Alderson says, “Once you can map it out ahead of time—or even while you’re writing—it makes the writing process so much more enjoyable. Because you don’t have to stop constantly to think of where you’re going, you can get down to doing what you enjoy and think about the beauty of words, making your characters come alive and all the things that writers love to do.”

The launch party for “The Plot Whisperer Workbook” will take place at 7:30 p.m Tuesday, Aug. 28 at Bookshop Santa Cruz, 1520 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. Call 423-0900 or visit bookshopsantacruz.com.

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