Monday, August 07, 2006

A Feast For The Mind

1 package active dry yeast
¼ cup warm water
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon shortening
2 teaspoons salt
5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour

Oh wait, wrong blog, those are the ingredients for bread. I love to bake—Anything from fresh bread to cakes from scratch to custards.

With every new baking project, there is a fresh set of ingredients to consider. I’ll admit I’m more of a pinch of this, and a touch of that, type of cook, but the amounts are pretty precise no matter how you measure them up. If a recipe calls for a teaspoon of sugar, I just pour a bit in my palm, and toss it in. two teaspoons of baking powder—toss it in. I’ve even been known to successfully scoop out cups of flour without the benefit of a measuring cup. Oh, I do use measuring cups; after all a ¼ cup of oil is not something you’d typically enjoy measuring by feel.

I bet by now you’re wondering what my point is. After all, you must know this has something to do with writing. You’re right.

Just like a good recipe involves particular ingredients, and careful application of amounts—so does a good story.

Things like: Structure, setting, character, conflict, and resolution.

Now each ingredient of a story, not only must be present in the appropriate amounts, they also must be handled with equal care.

When making bread, one of the most important ingredients is yeast. Yeast is a touchy animal. It’s a living thing. I won’t go into the particulars of exactly what yeast is, otherwise neither of us may ever eat another slice of bread…but suffice it to say—it lives. In keeping with its nature, it can be destroyed as well. Basically in the form you purchase it in, it’s asleep. You need to activate it using some form of warm liquid, usually either milk, or water. Now, if the liquid is too cool, the yeast will not activate. If it’s too hot, it will kill it.

Once you manage to wake it up, you have to feed it. After a long sleep, it’s a hungry beast. Yeast needs the appropriate amount of sweet feed—typically sugar, or honey to grow.

If you don’t handle the yeast with care… the bread won’t rise. Great if your Jewish, and it's Passover, but lousy if you desire a nice fluffy loaf of white bread.

It’s the same with the ingredients of a story. Care must be taken to exercise each aspect of a story so that it lives, and breathes, instead of laying flat on the page.

Each story must have a logical beginning, middle, and end.
Every piece has certain elements that make it work to the stories best advantage, and those elements can differ in styles and degrees based on the genres and author styles.

This ingredient isn’t often overlooked, but it is sometimes slighted, and not given the proper attention in creating well-rounded beings with suitable emotions, and thoughts for their part in the story. Too often, writers gloss over traits, and miss opportunities to heighten the tension of the story via the characters personalities, and inner conflicts.

This sets the mood for the story. Even with all the same characters, and general plot line, a story taking place in a dark, damp alley will have a different feel than one taking place in a sunny park on a Saturday morning.

This is a key ingredient. Of course, most of us realize that we need a central conflict, but many writers tend to focus only on that, and forget that every circumstance will make each individual react differently, and quite possibly introduce completely different conflicts within them. One single conflict in a story may be enough to satisfy a plot line, especially in a novella, or short length novel, but exploring the offshoots of the main conflict can create wonderful subplots in longer, more complex novels.

In a stand alone novel (one that is not part of a series), there must be a satisfying resolution. That doesn’t necessarily mean a happy ending. Depending on the genre, or individual author’s style, a happy ending may not even be desirable… but it must have closure. The problem needs to have been solved in some manner that is logical, and gives the reader a sense of finality.

As a writer develops and fine tunes his skill in using the listed ingredients, like a great chef, his creations will make mouths water.


Bernita said...

That's the very best recipe.
Writers have to make sure that the yeast isn't too old, the shortning rancid, and the flour full of weevils.

MissWrite said...

Love that, Bernita!

S. W. Vaughn said...

Great post! It's an excellent comparison. Funny how I never thought of writing this way, but you're dead-on here.

And now I want some bread. Mmmm... bread... :-)

MissWrite said...

LOL, thanks, S.W!