Thursday 17 January 2013

Secrets of Story Structure

Today, right here in sunny South Africa, I met the enthusiastic and knowledgeable MARTHA ALDERSON, known in America as the Plot Whisperer.

How did I meet her? My favourite on-line writing campus, Writer's Digest University, offers Martha's fantastic 2 hour webinar called SECRETS OF STORY STRUCTURE AND PLOT.

There is no way I can share all the tips, guidance and knowledge about plots and the structure of a story that Martha shares during the webinar, but I will list some of the major points Martha makes. 

I highly recommend that you buy the webinar and listen to it for yourself - you won't regret it!

Here are some random points Martha makes about how to plot and structure your story:
  • There are 3 plot threads
    • Dramatic Action (external action that provides excitement)
    • Character Emotional Development (inner action that transforms a character)
    • Thematic Significance (Gives meaning to the story)
  • A story has 3 parts: Beginning -  Middle - End
    • The Beginning = 1/4 of your story
    • The Middle = 1/2 of your story
    • The End = 1/4 of your story
  • Beginnings hook readers; Endings create fans.
  • Each section:
    • Must have a rising action taking the reader forward
    • The high point at the end of a section must drop slightly at the beginning of the next section, and then rise again as the stakes increase for both reader and character
    • The end of the beginning drops a bit, then rises to the crisis in the middle, which drops slightly before rising again to the climax near the end.
  • Start with the ending, because that drives the rest of your story forward.
  • What is the climax of your story? The climax:
    • provides the final confrontation
    • is point of highest intensity
    • where forces of greatest opposition meet
    • fundamentally transforms the protagonist, who steps fully into his/her power
    • brings thematic significance to the story
  • Establish a relationship with your reader in the beginning, which must draw the reader up to the 1/4 mark to hold them for the rest of the book.
  • The beginning of the story must:
    • give an overview of place to ground the reader
    • leave out unnecessary details
    • emphasise important information
    • keep scenes uncluttered with backstory
    • allow reader to move quickly forward to heart of the story (the middle)
  • The first major turning  point is the end of the beginning
    • moves character and reader from ordinary world (the known) to a new world (the unknown)
  • The end of the beginning and the climax (the last major turning point of the story) must inform each other.
  • The heart of a story is the middle. The middle:
    • takes place in an exotic world (the unknown)
    • includes the second major turning point, the crisis
    • where you develop subplots
    • where the antagonist is at full power
    • deepens character's self-knowledge by:
      • challenges and obstacles faced
      • conflict, tension and suspense
      • how s/he reacts to these
  • The crisis is different from the climax. The crisis:
    • occurs at 3/4 mark in story
    • shows the protagonist at his/her worst
    • is the antagonist's greatest moment
    • where the protagonist suffers and dies to his/her old personality
    • the point where all is lost for the protagonist
Thus, the key to successful plotting is to have the external crisis (dramatic action) occur at the same time as the inner crisis (moment of character emotional development) and bring meaning to the story (the thematic significance). 

During the course of this webinar I was so inspired I found myself scribbling down plot ideas for my new novel. As an imaginative, right-brained writer, plotting and structure is the worst kind of hell for me. 

With my debut novel, this flaw in my writing shows up in both the best of my reviews (It’s not that the plot is terribly captivating, it’s just that the words are arranged so … artfully? Grippingly? Hauntingly?) and the worst of my reviews (This got me confused. I just don't get this story. Don't get me wrong, it was beautifully written but words are meaningless if it does not convey what it is supposed to impart). 

I think Martha would agree that confusion in a reader is the kiss of death for a story!

But, thanks to the Plot Whisperer, as I start the mental journey to prepare for my descent into my writing burrow to complete my next novel, I'll be approaching my story with a far better idea how to plot and structure it than I've ever had before.

You can connect on line with Martha, the Plot Whisperer, here:

On Twitter
On her blog 
On Youtube
On her website

If you're in South Africa, you buy The Plot Whisperer books from Kalahari and, if you live internationally, you can buy the books here:

 You can buy and download the above webinar here


A Cuban In London said...

A lot of food for thought here. Especially as I am half way through Kundera's Life is Elsewhere, which subverts Martha's theory somewhat. But it's still got a beginning, a middle and I hope it will have an end.

Many thanks for such a lovely post.

Greetings from London.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Judy - so pleased you were able to participate in the webinar and obviously learnt a great deal.

Thank you for summarising it for us - as I definitely need to look at 'proper writing' soon ...

Good luck with your writing burrow - I so loved Dancing in the Shadows of Love ... and am so pleased it's been listed as a Top Read ..

Congratulations and enjoy the next stage - cheers Hilary

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

@CUBAN - hope you get your ending! (and, because I'm a romantic at heart, hope it's a happy one!) :)

@HILARY - thanks for the wishes about Dancing being listed as a top read! :) & Glad you felt this post will help you when you get to your "proper" writing! [although your blogging is also "proper" writing! :)]

Anonymous said...

Wow, great info, Judy! Thanks for posting all this. :o)

Elliot Grace said...

...a plethora of information!

It's officially bookmarked ;)


Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

JANET: The webinar was most informative, I'm glad I could share the info (although this is the tip of the iceberg)

ELLIOT: Glad you found it useful :)

A Cuban In London said...

I forgot to mention the other day, Judy, that in regards to the football fans I wrote about, their team had won! :-)

Have a brill weekend.

Greetings from London.

Jill Paterson said...

This is such an informative post, Judy. Thank you for sharing it. I’d like to award you a Versatile Blogger Award. You can read about it here http://www.the

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

CUBAN: Ah. I must be too used my team losing, so I automatically read it as the team walking home sadly after another loss (poor Bafana Bafana!) :)
Hope you've had a terrific week!

JILL: Squee! Thanks so much for the award. Off to admire it now :)