Guest Blogger: Martha Alderson

Martha Alderson is a friend, a critique partner, and a wonderful teacher of plot. Her blog, The Plot Whisperer, is a font of information about crafting your fiction, and you can buy Martha’s book and other plot tools at her website, Blockbuster Plots. To celebrate the end of NaNoWriMo, Martha has declared December National Plot Month and is giving daily tips at her blog to help you get started on revising that manuscript.

I asked Martha to stop by and give us just a taste of this next stage, how to look at those tens of thousands of words you just produced and figure out what you’re supposed to do with them.

Welcome, Martha!

Thank you, Becky, for inviting me to guest blog “about the kind of plotting a writer can do when they’ve FINISHED NaNoWriMo.” I agree with you that this is a crucial time–because, as you say–“it’s the first time (if the writers have done such a fast first draft) that they start shaping the story.”

The craft of writing involves taking what the muse has offered during the first draft and shaping the words into a coherent story. This step involves more than rewriting. The craft of writing requires a revisioning of the overall story.

The first draft is all about getting the words on the page.

Now it is time to forget the words.

Instead, stand back and analyze the story as a whole.

Consider the overall structure, how the characters develop and transform, where the gaps and holes appear, how the dramatic action rises and falls, the flow, the pace, the voice, what themes are introduced, and the overall meaning of the story itself.

Plot Tricks & Tips to Prepare for Draft Two

  • Do not read your manuscript for at least a week, preferably longer.
  • Do not show your first draft to others.
  • No editing. (Editing keeps you at the word level. Now is the time to consider the story as a whole.)
  • Break the story into the Beginning, Middle, and End. Each part has specific parameters and is easier to manage that takes place in each section.
  • List the main events that take place in each section.
  • Plot out step-by-step what happens to the main character in each of the three parts, both in terms of the action and in terms of their own individual growth, based on the action.

If you have a draft of a novel, memoir, or screenplay and are at a loss as to how to take your writing to the next level, join me throughout the month of December. I’ll take you through the process of crafting your first draft into a viable story.


  1. Gary says:

    This is a very interesting guest blog post.
    When I write fiction, I am often criticized for the absence of plot. To me, the plot is the interaction of the characters in their lives. Sometimes the lives are exciting and sometimes not. Plot considerations in my work give too much control to the readers during the writing process. When I give them the short story, then readers can make their own demands.


  2. beckylevine says:

    Interesting, Gary. I agree with you that PART of plot is character interaction with each other, but I do think “life” can throw some interesting things their way, as well. 🙂 Do you find that you add any more “plot” during a revision?


  3. martha says:

    Hmmmm, I agree, Becky.
    I’m not sure I understand what Gary is saying, but I get loud and clear that he is a character-driven writer.
    I’m confused about why plot gives control to the reader???
    Goes to a heated forum I ran: Do you write for yourself or for your reader?
    Hope you’ll check out the month-long event, Gary. Would love to hear how the process works for you.


  4. beckylevine says:

    Martha, I think we all do have to write for ourselves–I’d go crazy if I only wrote what I thought someone else wanted to read, BUT…I also very much want to HAVE readers! So I follow the market, read what’s being written and published, and do think about whether I’m getting MY story across in a way that will hook THEM. 🙂


  5. Gary says:

    I was interested in Becky’s dilema of trying to publish her work during hard economic times. One way to look at it is getting someone to buy the work. The reader (agent, publisher, fan) has control of the value of the piece – it’s worth money or not. I don’t like that bit of reality as I wrote above. The purpose of my revisions is to make the story flow more smoothly not to make the plot more appealing. The results of that self-defeating action are rejection slips. So, I’m interested in the month long process, Martha.


  6. I completed the first draft of a “return novel” in late August; gave it to a good friend and published novelist to read, and went off on my own return journey.

    The return novel is a sub-genre (defined by another friend in a published paper) in which an immigrant or 2d generation protagonist returns to her home country to resolve some issue. Whenever I tell my main plot to people, they say “Oh, it sounds like The Kite Runner.” Yes, Kite Runner is indeed a return novel. Ondaatje’s Anil’s Ghost is, too, while his memoir Running in the Family is also in the return format.

    So I thought I had a real narrative arc; character returns to home village after a war, looking to resolve old mystery and knit together a part of herself that was lost in emigration and war.

    My friend’s notes were very helpful; I also came back with plenty of sights and sensations to add texture to the story. However my plot has big holes in it.

    I’m finding that the “why” of the journey seems really unconvincing. Why bother?

    I’m giving this plot exercise a shot out of a desire to be teachable and to try something I can’t do for myself.


  7. beckylevine says:

    Gary, I’m not sure I see the reader as quite as powerful as the agent and publisher, but maybe that’s because I write for kids–who aren’t QUITE in control of the credit card yet. 🙂 Glad you’ll be checking out Martha’s posts.


  8. beckylevine says:


    I hope the “why bother” isn’t for you!! 🙂 Have you thought about a secondary reason in the hero’s life that sends her back to that country? Something that might seem smaller, in the grand scheme of plot, but actually leads to the bigger problem the journey helps solve? Take a look at my review post of the book HOOKED earlier in the week. Edgerton talks a lot about that inciting incident in a really (for me) helpful way. You might want to check out the book & see if it gets you further? And keep reading Martha’s blog, natch! 🙂


  9. Great post! I figure LOTS of Nano-ers are now sitting in front of their first-draft pile of words, like ‘now what?’ So much so fast. Now, comes Martha’s very helpful advice!

    Thanks, as always, Becky!!


  10. beckylevine says:

    Boy, I know THAT feeling–even without having done NaNo. I’m saving Martha’s tips up for when I get back to my own revision.


  11. martha says:

    Thanks for everyone’s comments and the encouragement.
    We’re on day 4.
    Following with my own story.
    Always honing….
    Thanks, Becky, for the fun day.


  12. beckylevine says:

    Thanks for doing the post, Martha!


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