I have been listening to recordings of some of the panels from the 2009 4th Street Fantasy Convention. Let me share a bit of it with you, with Elise Matthesen's permission, and you might see why it's one of my favorite conventions.
At 43 minutes into the “Learning to Analyze Structure” panel, moderator Beth Meacham recognizes Elise Matthesen.
Elise says, “Well, when I’m reading, and I’m looking at plot, and structure, and theme, I think of it in terms of an episode of Iron Chef. No, really – you know this show? There’s a secret ingredient, and there’s two chefs who are competing to make some very cool meal, each dish of which involves the secret ingredient.
“I think the theme is whatever your challenge ingredient is – if it’s squid this time, if it’s inheritance as we were saying in the family panel, whatever.
“The number of dishes and the order that they are presented in is the structure. You have a soup. It’s a hot soup. Then you have the three little cold things that contrast with each other. And then you have the
baked thing with the sauce that echoes something from the soup. And then you have, maybe, the fourth dish if you had time to fit it in and your editor didn’t say, ‘Cut that.’ And then you have the really, really
over-the-top dessert that suddenly makes all the other flavors in your mouth make sense.
“Now what plot is…”
Beth Meacham, the panel moderator has been interrupting Elise for the last few sentences, telling Elise to stop. Beth says, “Stop now.” The audience laughs uncomfortably. “Please come up on the panel.”
The audience applauds.
Beth replaces the members of the panel, except for Patrick Nielsen Hayden, who had just been expressing his frustration at being unable to comment. Beth asks Patrick to stay, and she transfers moderating duties to
him, as Elise and others are seated on the panel.
“Theme is the challenge ingredient. It [the show] always starts out with, ‘As memory serves.” And structure is the order of dishes, and the hot and the cold, and the size, and the texture in your mouth. Is it liquid? Is it
fast-moving? Is it a slow thing? How long does it take to chew this? All that stuff. Okay, what plot is – plot are the specific dishes. Plot is – hello, my secret ingredient is... Steve, give me an ingredient.”
Steve Brust suggests ginger as an ingredient.
Elise says, “My plot is – the first course is a ginger soup, where they’ve done a ginger clear consommé, with a little ginger amuse-bouche next to it. Then the second thing is the three different kinds of ginger, spicy,
candied, and pickled. The third is the fish that’s had the ginger wrap with the blah, blah, blah. That’s your plot, the very specific tastes. And that’s the pretty words, how well you get the spices.”
Patrick says, “I’m not sure I follow all that, but I’m hungry.”