Martha Alderson is a writer by night and a plot consultant by day. She has worked with hundreds of writers in workshops, retreats, and personal consultations. Over the past 15 years, her clients have included bestselling authors, New York editors, and Hollywood movie directors. With her new book, The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master, Alderson delivers a powerful addition to the writer’s bookshelf.
Any writer in search of a new slant on plot development — as well as character development — will find a unique approach here. Alderson loosely links story development to the writer’s own personhood as the writing develops.
Organized in three parts, the book focuses first on plotting and themes, next on creating characters and setting, and then on fleshing out the journey. Skeleton charts titled “Plot Planner” and “Scene Tracker” encourage the writer-reader to begin tackling these tasks right away because they look so simple. Alderson slowly unveils their complexity during the course of the book while offering myriad hints of encouragement to keep writers believing — knowing — they can do it. The book suggests both visual and kinesthetic ways to access ideas. The Plot Planner chart, for instance, uses paper and sticky notes and different colors to represent scenes and characters.
This book comes closer than others I’ve read to shedding light on the nuances of the writer’s battle-dance with the story. The writer becomes part of the story, bringing his or her own struggles, flaws, and strengths to bear on the characters’ struggles, flaws, and strengths. Alderson believes “that every book is part of a Universal Story that flows throughout our lives, both in our imaginations and in the reality that surrounds us … What is left after the end of the story has the potential to transform not only the writer but all those who read the story as well.”
Alderson, writing with empathy and clarity, works this thread throughout her book. Shaded “Plot Whisper” boxes guide the writer in specific how-to strategies. Sections called “The Writer’s Way” help the writer gain self-knowledge to enrich scenes and characters.
The Writer’s Way sections are written in second person and are clearly directed to you, the reader, personally. Less prescriptive than the Plot Whisper sections, they have an almost singsong quality that lures you to search for awareness and bring yourself into the equation. Sprinkled among the more straightforward concepts in this how-to book, the Writer’s Way sections help you get in touch with the Universal Story from another angle, your very own.