The 7 Essential Questions of Plot — Do You Ask Them?

Welcome to Techie Tuesday here at More Cowbell!

This is the day each week when I unleash my inner geek and we talk about some groovy piece of technology or a technical point of writing. Today I’m going to share a few writing resources I think you’ll like.

I adore Inky Girl, Debbie Ridpath Ohi. She does gems like this in her Will Write for Chocolate series: ~ (c) All Rights Reserved ~ (c) All Rights Reserved

She also introduces me to amazing writing teachers like Martha Alderson. Martha wrote a book called the Plot Whisperer and here is how Inky Girl reviewed it:

I should EVER be this talented! (c) - All Rights Reserved

I should EVER be this talented! (c) – All Rights Reserved

As a bonus for you, Linda Joy Myers at Memories and Memoirs, interviewed Martha Alderson and here is a quick excerpt from her amazing article:

For each scene, ask yourself the seven essential questions of plot:

1. Does the scene establish the date and setting?

2. How does it develop the character’s emotional makeup?

3. Is the scene driven by a specific character goal?

4. What dramatic action is shown?

5. How much conflict, tension, suspense, or curiosity is shown?

6. Does the character show emotional changes and reactions within the scene?

7. Does the scene reveal thematic significance to the overall story?

I originally came across this article because I write memoir, and it was fascinating to look at the story from Martha’s more objective point of view:

Memoir writers think they know the plot because they already know “what happened.” Can you talk about this issue a bit—is that way of thinking useful or should they revise their attitude toward plot.

Plot embodies quite a bit more than more than just what happens in the memoir or a sum of the events. Plot is how the events in the story of your life directly impact the main character or the protagonist, in other words, you.

Always, in the best-written memoirs, the protagonist is emotionally affected by the events of the story. In great memoirs, the dramatic action transforms the protagonist. This transformation makes a story meaningful.

Keep in mind that, yes, you lived the story and the story comes through you. However, when you decide to write that story down, you turn from the one who experienced the events to that of a writer. Your job, then, is to present what you have lived in a pleasing and meaningful form to the reader.

This takes setting yourself aside and means opening your mind to receive the greatest good of the story.

I don’t know about you, but that last sentence lights me on fire.

Note: If you’d like to read the rest of the article (and I recommend you do), click here. You can also find The Plot Whisperer on Amazon.

Last, but not least, I’m also a huge fan of Lisa Cron who wrote Wired For Story. (Here’s a kickass article of hers titled Why Good Writers Sometimes Give Bad Advice.)

What books, bit of knowledge or writing instructor has lit you on fire lately? Is there some other question you ask, besides the seven above? What are you working on right now? Enquiring minds LOVE to know these things here at More Cowbell!


About Jenny Hansen

Avid seeker of "more"...More words, more creativity, More Cowbell! An extrovert who's terribly fond of silliness. Founding blogger at Writers In The Storm ( Write on!
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25 Responses to The 7 Essential Questions of Plot — Do You Ask Them?

  1. Me? Working on right now? A contemporary romance with humor hits and steam.

    Things happen for a reason. Today is a great day to have these resources at my fingertips, because I’m in the muck and mire of killing darlings. Oh-so-clever sentences (in my imagination) that don’t move the story forward.

    These sound like awe-freaking-some resources.

    My IMPROV class with Nigel, took me down the “and, then” path to sort through options to amp the tension, protagonist character flaws, and felonious villain(s).

    It’s time I expanded beyond Margie Lawson (Geesh! I already have every single one of her rhetorical devices memorized) and Donald Maass. No. I could never take those two out of the mix, but I’m having a get-‘er-done month-long party between now and Nationals.

    ALL INN will be ready to pitch. Bonus! Thanks to your not-so-gentle triple-dog-dares at DFWCon, I have an agent request for a partial. Saving this to my Nifty News folder.


    • That is so freaking awesome, Gloria! You’ll get requests for fulls at Nationals, so be prepared! I’m so excited for you.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Gloria, I am SO proud of you!!! ALL INN is going to be a ravishing success (emphasis on the ravishing) and I can’t wait. I might have triple-dog-dared you, but you were the one who hiked up the brave britches and sauntered over to the agent. 🙂


  2. K.B. Owen says:

    Jenny, fab resources, and excellent questions to always keep in mind! Donald Maass’s “Writing the Breakout Novel” was transformative for me. I was taking it WAAYY too easy on my characters, and not raising the stakes nearly enough. But all that changed after reading his book. **laughs evilly** Now my characters SUFFER.

    I also love “Wired for Story” – it helps in particular with pacing and structure, two things apparently craved by the human brain. Who knew, right? Fab book.

    Up for more sprints today, in between the air conditioning guy, and son #2’s doc appt this afternoon. Will the errands ever end…



    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Thanks, Kathy! I was lucky enough to see Donald Maass speak live and he is transformative. Still, I hear tons about the book and I’m ashamed to say I have it and haven’t really read it yet! I’ll bump it up the pile. 🙂

      May your errands trickle down to NOTHING soon!!!


  3. Jenny –

    Fabulous post! Love Inky Girl!

    I’m teaching at WestTexas A&M University’s Writers’ Academy this week. I’ll share your web site on the big screen in class this morning, and show them this post. I bet they’ll all become addicted to COWBELL!


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      You’re so amazing, Margie!! I miss you and I have not forgotten about all the magic we will be making together. I hope you’re getting tons of new baby snuggles…they grow so fast!


  4. Laura Drake says:

    Jenny, you posted this to mock me, didn’t you?

    You KNOW I have a bad case of plot envy, and that book would be like Cibola to me!!! I want it, but when I get it, it’s like a different language that I don’t get…so I wander the desert….

    Anyway – I’m working on a proposal for a novella involving the characters from my latest release.
    Which, of course, involves a synopsis. Which, of course, requires plotting…



    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I didn’t post it TO mock you, but it is a tiny bit of side benefit IYKWIM. 🙂

      I’m so proud of you that you’re doing such wonderful strategic thinking for your career!!! You go with your badass novella self. LOL.


  5. Amber West says:

    Great resource! Bookmarking for later.

    (And maybe I could get in on some sprinting with you again?? 🙂 )

    Currently – I am TRYING to ONLY work on The Ruth Valley Missing sequel, but I admit to dancing back and forth between that and my new YA novel (and the occasional skip to a Women’s Fic novel started before TRVM that I plan on finishing).

    FOCUS. I needs it.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Amber, I would LOVE to do more sprints! That was so fun. 🙂

      Also, I’m a big fan of working on a few projects at a time. I think it helps keep the writing fresh. (At least it does for me, but that could be the A.D.D. talking.)


  6. What great suggestions and links. Really good. What I’m working on. Well, working on a short story and a novella in my Big Uneasy series and packing to go to my 40th high school reunion. Ouch. But I get to travel with my daughter in law and the twins.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Thanks, Pauline. I adore short stories. I just do, and there’s so much market for the shorter works now. Congratulations!!

      And WOW, the 40th is supposed to be TONS of fun. Everyone I know says they have more fun at the 40th reunion than any of the others. Have fun with the twins!


      • This is first one I’ll make it to, so I’m excited, but wow, i feel OLD! LOL I plan to have a great time with the twins, thanks! They are SO cute. So I’ll def be in my happy place. 🙂 You take care! (If you don’t see me around for a couple of weeks, well, you’ll know why!)


  7. amyshojai says:

    Saved and printed and thumb-tacked to my forehead. (ow!)


  8. Ha! Wow, the tone of this post is one hundred and eighty from yesterday. lol. Jenny, I must say that you do know how to stir things up. It was interesting. Anyway, Love the 7 essential question for plotting. I am re-writing and need the reminder to ramp the stakes up in each scene. Got it. 🙂


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Karen, I felt like we all were ready to rest our eyeballs a bit from the madness. That was a wild post.

      Good girl on your re-writing!!! As we heard above: conflict on every page. 🙂


  9. I still need to hop over to yesterday’s post (I’m a day and a half behind in my life, need to catch up!). This post is ultra awesome and I think I squee’d a little bit when I read that Margie put your post up on the big screen. It was a total fangirl squee, both for you and Margie!

    I might need this book. Sometimes I meander through the muck a little too much.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Tameri, we warn you…you might need bleach for you eyeballs after reading. It was worthy of a Natalie Hartford and Hubby blogjack, I swear.

      I completely squeed over Margie’s comment! I’m glad I wasn’t alone. Lonesome squeeing is a bit embarrassing IYKWIM….


  10. Diana Beebe says:

    I so needed this post, Jenny! (I have to admit that I’m still avoiding the previous post–what with the warning to need bleach for my eyeballs….)

    My current project is Book 2 in my new middle grade series. I have to outline and plot and research. The research is fun, but the plotting is painful for this recovering pantster.


  11. Phil says:

    This is a really thorough tutorial type of post that offers some great info. Especially for those who are just starting out their writing careers.


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  13. kristelle says:

    Nice post ; i like it 🙂


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