The Importance of Guides—A Look at The Plot Whisperer

The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master by Martha Alderson

Sometimes books call to you. The Plot Whisperer waited for me and eventually sounded a trumpet. Long ago, I had ordered the book long, when I felt I should be writing. After I received The Plot Whisperer, I filed it away in my office and promptly forgot about it.

Then there came the time when I knew I needed to get serious about writing. I went on a retreat that reopened wounds and poured a container of salt on them. When I came home, I felt that that this book that I wanted to write hung on a very tenuous thread. For the first few days after I returned from the retreat, I woke up in the middle of the night, stumbled into my office, and wrote. I was too tired to be critical of anything that I put down. I knew if I was well rested and fully awake, I probably would not have given myself permission to write one word. But that was a short-term solution. With a late-night writing practice, I could not function well during the day.

So I sat in my office and wondered what to do, and I noticed this book that I had purchased years ago, sitting on my bookshelf. The title offered secrets. It said that it was something I could do. I picked the book up, and read the first few pages, and I knew I was home.

Alderson does not begin by explaining craft. In her opening, she discusses matters of the heart. She talks about how difficult it is to go on this journey, how it changes you, how writing a book is an act of courage. I had found the exact book that I needed. For a while, in my writing practice, I read this book and took notes on what I read and wrote down my ideas about my book that came out of my reading. Even after I had finished the book, I kept The Plot Whisperer by my bedside table. When I felt lost, I would pick it up and refer to things. Sometimes I would just look at it, and I would feel like things were going to be okay. I had a guide book. I wasn't just wandering around in a darkened forest. I had a plan.

Since that time, I have read many books on craft, but The Plot Whisperer was the first, and it was the guide that spoke to my soul. Before I read this book, I was so frustrated that I could not figure out how to write the novel that was in my head. Alderson, with compassion and experience, affirmed to me what a spiritual challenge it is to write a book. In fact, she recommended not showing anyone your first draft. She gave me permission to make my writing practice private and sacred.

This is the time to again reiterate that all writers are different. Some writers flourish in feedback groups. For me, it's destructive, an adult version of “Pin the Tail on the Donkey,” where I always end up being that mule. You have to know your nature, your strengths and weaknesses. I'm a sensitive. I pick up feelings. That's great for writing novels, but sometimes awful for being around groups of people. My instinct is to take care of others. I unconsciously volunteer to be a scapegoat. I leave feedback groups, feeling crazy. The Plot Whisperer was balm to my soul. It gave me much-needed technical knowledge, and it provided a guide to writing that suited my temperament. The Plot Whisperer saved my writing life.