While working on a major project for our church, I had the wonderful opportunity to strike up conversations with dozens upon dozens of people I had never conversed with before. One of the hot topics became cooking.
Hands down, my favorite ingredient is fresh garlic. A clove or three, minced and sauteed in a bit of extra virgin olive oil, can push a tasty dish to the next level.
One of the ladies (who is an amazing cook with over 50 years experience in the kitchen) claimed she had NEVER used fresh garlic to cook with. EVER.
That confession was akin to blasphemy in my book.
But it got me thinking. Writing is like cooking. We get stuck in a rut. We cook the same dishes over and over again because we know our families will eat them. We use the same ingredients and cook them in the same ways, never venturing too far out of the box for fear that our kids will turn their noses up and our spouses will no longer declare us Top Chef.
When we write, we tend to fall into the same patterns. Our MC’s are of similar ages with the same fundamental personality traits. We strike up boy/girl relationships, throw in a conflict or two and add a bully for good measure.
In essence, we cook up a story using the same ingredients.
Our job is to keep our writing fresh. We need to strip our manuscripts of the canned phrases and salted story lines. We need to give up on processed plots and go with the freshest ingredients available to us.
Instead of changing our fifteen year-old, female’s hair color from blonde to auburn and making her two inches taller, we need to infuse our MC with a flavor all her own. She may pick her cuticles until they bleed when she’s nervous. She might have a habit stepping over every crack in the sidewalk because she truly believes the old childhood ditty–even though she doesn’t believe in anything else. She might have a touch of OCD.
Whatever the case, we need to write outside the box.
What happens when the requisite love triange includes a same-sex friendship instead of two hot hunks? What if the bully is the scrawny, smart kid instead of the lumbering idiot? What happens when it’s the spouse who has committment issues instead of the detective?
These are small changes–a bit like adding fresh garlic instead of garlic powder–yet they can have a big impact on how our characters act and react. In essence tiny details can change the entire flavor of a story.
They can also make the difference between another formulaic storyline or the fresh manuscript that agents and editors are clammering to bite into.
What do you have cookin’? What are the most commonly used “ingredients” in your writing? Can you tweak them in a fresh way to enhance your story as a whole?
After writing this, I realized my bullies are so yesterday: the petite, cute cheerleader and the blundering idiot. It is not until my NaNo YA that the bully is a braniac hottie with a penchant for misusing those around him.
Why is it so hard to take your own advice?!?!?
And so, I shall heed the words of wisdom written by successful authors before me, including Rick Frishman and Robyn Freedman Spizman.
I hope Lisa finds something useful too. Lisa Gibson posted the winning comment for my Slumber Party Bash contest. For her awesome entry and great party idea she will receive a copy of Author 101: Bestselling Secrets from Top Agents.
If you have never visited Lisa’s blog, you should do so today. Her blog is one of peace and inspiration. Thanks, Lisa!