Friday, April 29, 2011

Cooking Up a Good Story

I was going to title this one "The Muse Wears an Apron" but realized that while that would be a cool concept for an ongoing blog, this one already has a title. Which I happen to like very much. And those kind of blogs where every title starts the same way start to feel a little gimmicky after a while. Also, and probably most importantly, this one had nothing to do with a muse or inspiration anyway.

As I was in the kitchen the other day, pursuing one of my other passions (no, not opening a bottle of wine), I was struck by the similarities between the two separate creative processes - that is, making a meal, and writing a novel. While the former takes a great deal less time, being able to prepare a meal inside the span of an afternoon, and I've yet to write a novel inside the span of three months (more like six) - they nonetheless undergo a similar arc from beginning to end.

Like a novel, a meal takes preparation and planning. You have to have some idea where you're going. At times, this can be quite clear, particularly if you're working from a set of recipes or planning a menu. When writing, this is akin to those times when you know where the story is going. You have your plot laid out, more or less, and know what you want when you sit to write. Other times, however, you find yourself staring into your pantry and wondering what the heck you're going to make for dinner that night. A full pantry makes that easier, just as a full stock of story ideas or brainstorming techniques makes it easier when you have the same experience when writing.

And then, just as the various elements of the plot come together, so too does the meal. You assemble it bit by bit, following a set process. Unlike writing, where you can (and I do) write the ending first, cooking forces you to go from beginning to end. However, plenty of times I've written an ending as a starting point, so if you view the end product as the finished novel, it still holds.

(Hey, it's not the first time I've put a metaphor up on the rack in this blog. Won't be the last either.)

Subplots are like the appetizers of the side dishes. Satisfying and delicious, they help round out the meal, making it a more thoroughly enjoyable experience. The more ambitious the meal, the more prep, the more that has to come together, and, in my case, the greater the satisfaction at the end.

And of course, at the end, you have to present it to your audience. You ultimately hope they like it, and can be reasonably confident in your skills, but still you know in the back of your mind that no matter how many meals you've pulled off flawlessly, every once in a while something goes wrong. Then, you shelve the recipe until you're willing to take it out and tweak it later.

Though, unlike making a meal, when you finish a novel there are no dishes to wash.

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