Planning a Plot Planner

I know, really? THAT organized. Well, no…more like a way to get past (around?) my fears about this kind of organization.

I have been lucky enough to know Martha Alderson, author of The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master, for many years. Lucky enough to have lived in the same town, to have shared a critique group with her, to have attended several workshops and plot-planning sessions with her. And I can tell you this–if you haven’t already figured it out for yourself: Martha knows her stuff. I have been amazed over and over, as I show Martha the work I’ve done on a story plot so far, only to watch her get a questioning look on her face, point her finger at a very specific spot, and say, “But what about X?” Bingo! Martha’s ability to spot the gaps, to zero in on what is missing or what goes off in the wrong direction, is fantastic.

But here comes my confession. The Plot Planner intimidates me. I’m not quite sure why–I have worked happily, many times, with the other big structural piece of Martha’s program–The Scene Tracker. Possibly, that clicks with my brain more because it’s linear: scene by scene by scene. I’m linear, in many ways. As a reader, no; I can jump around and make connections and tell you where an event was seeded, where the layers come in, how it builds to its own particular crisis–just try me. But as a writer…scene by scene by scene makes me happy. I’ve always felt a little bad that the Plot Planner and my brain didn’t synch up better.

Until I was reading through The Plot Whisperer book the other night and came across these words: …if [when you see a plot planner,] you scowl and fold your arms across your chest, sense yourself turning pale, or feel as if your eyes are popping out of your head, you are probably a right-brained, character-driven writer.”

Hey, I don’t think I’ve ever actually folded my arms across my chest. Okay, well, maybe. But I do panic a bit at trying to figure out which scenes  go where, how I can write neatly enough on a little sticky note to get my scene point across in just a few words, how I don’t end up with all my notes indicating passive, contemplative moments below the line.  Once again, Martha gets it. I’ve talked a lot on this blog about how much I love plot, adore structure, crave the little buckets into which to pour the words. BUT…I’m pretty sure that’s because plot does not come naturally to me, and because–consequently–I’ve spent too much time rambling around all that happy character stuff without getting anywhere. I don’t like not getting anywhere. As a reader, I’ve gotten more needy of plot, but for decades, you could hand me a pretty storyless book and I’d lose myself contentedly in all the character stuff. It’s why I can read a mystery novel for the third time and still not remember whodunnit. Russian novels? Read them for almost a decade, because…character. My favorite scene in The Secret Garden? Mary’s massive tantrum at Colin. Character. *Insert a few measures of Barbra Streisand’s People*

Anyway, what am I going to do about this? Well, I’m already doing it. A week or so ago, on Facebook, Catherine Meyer and Cheri Williams were posting photos of their plot-planning session. A session they did TOGETHER! My brain said…WOW! Plot-planning with friends! With other writers who know your pain story. With other writers who– when you lag–will give you a hug, a piece of chocolate, a few good brainstorming questions, and then kick you in the butt to keep going. ALL. HAPPY. DAY.

I ran it by my critique group. Unanimous YEAH. We’ve got a date set up. We know we might not get through our entire stories in that day, but we’re committed to working focused and long, and to scheduling another session if we need to get through to The End. We know things will change from what we write onto our Plot Planner: early plots are flexible and fluctuating (aha! Perhaps another root of my fear?). But we’re getting together, and we’re getting started.

And I’m not quite so intimidated.


  1. “are probably a right-brained, character-driven writer.” – oh how we right-brainers suffer lol. I have not read Martha Alderson’s book but from your description it sounds like a winner so its on my list now.

    Support/writing groups are just plain amazing; leech ideas and inspiration from others as they do the same to you. Writing in a void is difficult.


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