How to cook up a story
Last night we were watching one of the older seasons of Canadian Master Chef. We love Master Chef, although neither my partner nor I could actually be bothered to cook - we just throw suff together in the kitchen because the children are perpetually hungry.
I've compared writing to cooking many times because to me, they seem like the same thing just using different ingredients. Chefs throw fresh food together in a pot and create magic, we throw words together on a page and also create magic.
For those of you who read my posts regularly, you'll know that I'm writing a novel which I want to enter into a competition - and that I find it rather challenging, to say the least.
So last night, while we were watching Masterchef, I was ruminating over my story line, which just wasn't coming together in a way that made sense to me. But then Demon Chef, Alvin Leung, with his characteristic dark blue hair tastes one of the competitors dishes and starts waving the fork around in that dissatisfied manner that he has. "You did not honour the main ingredient! This is not good enough."
The contestants were given fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Think seafood so fresh it's practically crawling off the chopping board, luscious herbs and other things still covered with dirt plucked straight from the earth. And this contestant, who happened to be one of the stronger ones, just messed up. She took her ingredients and put them together in the wrong way, leading to a rather disappointing ending. (Although, to me, it looked like a fabulous concoction on her plate. But take that from whence it comes...)
A light bulb went off in my head. What would my storyline look like if I honoured my main ingredient? If I honoured my main characters, the main themes and made them the star of the show, how would that change the storyline? Like the contestant, I had lots of good thing to work with, and could put them together in any number of ways, but getting to a satisfying result was not easy.
But with those words spoken by the blue haired chef, I suddenly had it. The perfect storyline, the perfect ending I was grasping for and not getting.
I rearranged my ideas, and deleted the possible story threads that were good, but didn't highlight the main ingredient. Now, I have an outline that I'm excited about, and it actually makes sense! That's a first for me, by the way, and probably the reason why none of my earlier attempts at writing a novel have ever succeeded.
But this time, I approached the entire project differently, and so far, it seems to be working.
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