book reviews / plot / writers tips / writing

13 Ways and 3 Books to Build Blockbuster Plots

sad cartoon manMartha Alderson’s Blockbuster Plots: Pure and Simple (Illusion Press 2004) presents step-by-step strategies to build your story, maximize the impact of scenes and provide depth to the plot. She focuses not on the ordinary plot, but the one that will push you to the top of the pile, make your book a must-read among all others.The difference in simple terms is you must want to write a story that will go viral (maybe make you a lot of money) rather than simply tell a story you feel must be told. I’ve read two other books for would-be writers that address this unique animal:

Alderson explains it differently–less narrative and more a structured approach via what she calls a ‘Scene Tracker’. This handy spreadsheet includes significant elements required for each scene, such as:

  • date of scene
  • setting
  • scene summary
  • brief description of character’s emotional development
  • the goal of the scene
  • dramatic action
  • conflict
  • change
  • theme detail

I won’t include an image for fear it is copyrighted, but you’ll see it in the book.

Here are thirteen takeaways (besides these eleven) I liked:

  • “We experience mood swings, albeit fleetingly, in reaction to every conflict. Chart those.”
  • “Do not polish. Do not go back and start over. Keep moving forward.”
  • “…come up with an authentic detail specific to your story, yet universal, so when it is repeated, it draws the readers in…”
  • “A story is the shifting of power back and forth between the protagonist and the antagonist.”
  • “Story is about struggle.”
  • “As the character prepares to confront the adversity, suspense builds and the reader begins to participate.”
  • “Any sort of looming unknown makes it possible for you to slow things down without the fear of losing your readers.”
  • “The protagonist must be drawn as a complex individual with both strengths and weaknesses.”
  • “The Crisis is the dark night of the soul.”
  • “Once you, as the writer, know how the character is going to play the final confrontation, you have all you need to know.”
  • “The protagonist demonstrates the transformation s/he underwent in the story by doing something in the Climax s/he was unable to do at the Beginning of the story.”
  • “The first draft separates people who write from those who talk about writing.”
  • “By using something within the character’s psychology to create tension or conflict, you create a multilayered plotline, one involving character growth directly linked to the action.”

BTW, if you want to purchase any of these from Amazon, click the links below:

Blockbuster Plots: Pure & Simple

The Breakout Novelist: Craft and Strategies for Career Fiction Writers

Writing the Blockbuster Novel

More how-to book reviews for writers:

36 Essential Books for Every Writer

15 Tips From Writing From A to Z

11 Tips to Self-Editing Your Manuscript

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Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of dozens of books on integrating tech into education, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. 

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39 thoughts on “13 Ways and 3 Books to Build Blockbuster Plots

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  5. Conflict is the key. I learned that after I wrote my first draft. Sigh. Better late than never. Next time around I’m going to track the emotional tempo of each scene/chapter. Thanks for these tips!


  6. Thanks for these! I’ve been a screenwriter a long time but am just starting to find my way with fiction so happy to get my hands on any pointers! I’ve always found lots of detailed plotting to be useful, so that by the time I get into a draft I’m all but watching the movie in my head and transcribing, and I’m hoping I’ll be able to apply a similar method to my novel…


    • Where Maass and Zuckerman are more narrative, Alderson is a workbook approach. Maass and Zuckerman rely on their expertise in the field (which in both cases is considerable). Alderson isn’t as well known, but I came to respect her ideas, which then, makes the homework palatable.


  7. Jacqui bookmarked and loving every one. Especially the reminder to show growth in your hero….“The protagonist demonstrates the transformation s/he underwent in the story by doing something in the Climax s/he was unable to do at the Beginning of the story.” I have not arrived at the end of my novel yet in editing but will definitely check back with these when I finish my editing course. Thank you.


  8. I like the comment that the first draft seperates those who write from those who talk about it. It’s true we need to put our bums in seats. It sounds like an interesting book. I’m also interested in the Donald Maas book.


  9. I wonder… are we reading these books as a way to justifiably procrastinate at actually putting our butts in the seat and hammering at a keyboard or taking up a pen and scratching out a story on paper? I have boughten 2 books on writing in the past year. Mind you, these are not thesauruses, grammar, or other books like these. The first one I bought was “The First 50 Pages’. The second was ‘The Beginning, the Middle, and the End’. I figure if I can’t do it from here on, I just can’t do it. Luckily, I feel that I can do it.


    • I’ve bought a lot of books as motivation for writing. It’s been a long journey and depressing at times. Authors like Maass remind me I can do it! Yeah!

      First 50 Pages–Noah Lukeman–good choice.


  10. Oooh, I’m having a little trouble with that motivation—“is you must want to write a story that will go viral (maybe make you a lot of money) rather than simply tell a story you feel must be told. ”

    I’ve always that that it is enough to tell the story your feel must be told. I guess that explains everything.


    • Zuckerman digs into that motivation into his book–telling readers his book is for those who want the Gold. I’m not sure that’s me, either. I want to tell a good story, make people happy. That’s my purpose more than getting famous.

      Liked by 1 person

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