Abigail Samoun, an editor at Tricycle Press (a division of Ten Speed Press, which is now an imprint of Crown Publishing Group— http://www.tricyclepress.com) spoke on the making of a good plot. The title of her talk was “Tell Me a Story: Lessons from Five Masters of Plot.” She reminded us that plots, like life, are about change and should be dynamic. The author should plot against the reader, but lead the reader through the “plot labyrinth” to a satisfactory end. She gave Harry Potter: Prisoner of Azkaban as an example of a good setup. Ms. Samoun’s second lesson was to use familiar structure, using Judy Blume’s Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret as an example. Her third lesson was called three up, three down, meaning escalate your conflict three times and then de-escalate three times, as Mo Willems does in My Friend Is Sad. This framework is a starting place to which the author adds uniqueness. Lesson four is to be your hero’s worst enemy. Get your main character into trouble and then heap on more trouble. Her example here was Frank Baum’s stories. In lesson five she used Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” as her example to show how to build tension by keeping the audience waiting.
I happened to have a critique with Ms. Samoun and found her to be both engaging and helpful. She used to ride horses as a youngster and even competed in Vaulting—where the rider performs gymnastic feats on a horse that’s cantering around a ring. She says her sister was better. Yeah, think circus rider, but more intense. She was born in France, but has been in this country since she was six, although she does go back to France for visits. She loves to ride on trains.
(Thank you to Sarah Maury Swan for these helpful notes! Stay tuned for more from Sarah.)