Inkpop Blog

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Plan your plot

Posted by inkpop on November 6, 2009

inktip #6: HarperCollins editor Farrin Jacobs says ‘simplicity rules’ HowToBeBad

“I love all my children equally,” Farrin Jacobs says of the books she’s edited, including The Luxe by Anna Godbersen and the American version of Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta.

Though she doesn’t like to play favorites, a few stand out as particularly memorable, including HarperTeen’s How to Be Bad by Lauren Myracle, E. Lockhart, and Sarah Mlynowski. “It went through a lot of changes from first draft to final draft and became stronger with each revision—sometimes in unexpected ways. I’m sure the authors wanted to murder me a little during the process,” she says, jokingly.

Now working on HarperTeen projects by Kimberly Derting, Sophie Jordan, Cynthia Hand, and Lauren Conrad, Jacobs got a humble start in the publishing industry—in the shipping department of a self-help publisher. She then attended journalism school in New York and worked as a reporter before settling into her fiction-editing career.

Jacobs channeled her industry expertise into the 2006 release of See Jane Write: A Girl’s Guide to Writing Chick Lit, a how-to-guide she co-wrote with the aforementioned Sarah Mlynowski. “It was funny for me to be edited by Sarah, since that wasn’t how it usually worked,” Jacobs says. “We did most of the work in our own homes and emailed material back and forth. I remember one day, laying facedown on Sarah’s couch, refusing to think anymore, so we must have done at least a little work in the same room.”

Luckily for inkpoppers, Jacobs is happy to share her thoughts and tips about plot development …

Keep your plot simple—with a twist

A successful plot can be quite simple as long as you tell the story in a fresh, intriguing way, Jacobs says. She recommends developing all things unique: characters, voice, and structure—anything that makes your story original and compelling.

“I think sometimes writers feel like they have to throw in all sorts of crazy plot twists to make things interesting, but often that just makes the story feel forced,” she says. “Sometimes the best books are the simplest stories, well told.”

Respect your characters

Make sure the plot and characters are working together and that you’re not trying to shove a square peg into a round hole, Jacobs says. “One fatal flaw I come across a lot is when a plot takes over—and takes everything with it.”

If the characters are overwhelmed by the plot, the story doesn’t feel organic and the characters don’t feel genuine. Jacobs says readers suffer when the writer focuses too much on the plot and doesn’t let the characters breathe. “I’ve lost interest because the writer didn’t create the world and characters in a believable way since he or she was too focused on sticking to the plot,” she says.

Options are endless

When asked whether writers should avoid any overdone plots, Jacobs said she doesn’t discriminate against certain types or approaches. “I wouldn’t want to single any plot lines out as something to avoid, because I truly believe that any story can be made fresh with the right voice and characters.”

inkpop Forums topic: What makes a memorable plot to you? How have you formulated plots for your own projects? goes public on November 10, 2009!

The inkpop blog is written by inkpopAmy

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2 Responses to “Plan your plot”

  1. great post as usual .. thanks .. you just gave me a few more ideas to play with

  2. […] editor at HarperCollins, Farrin Jacobs, applauds Cheva’s dialogue for its hilarious, natural vibe. “I’ve seen dialogue that’s […]

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