Friday, September 4, 2009

Of Soup and Stories

Cormac Brown has a lovely piece over at his blog called "Jook and the Moth". It's about trying to capture the flavor of a favorite dish cooked by someone else, in this case, his grandmother. I mentioned in the comments that I gave my sons recipes and he asked if I included all the ingredients or if I held back that one secret item that made it special. Which, of course, got me thinking about writing. Don't worry, my mind always takes side-trips that aren't always logical.

When I pass along recipes, I always copy the recipe from the original source, cookbook, newspaper clipping or magazine recipe. But the truth is, over the years of using these recipes, I do tweak them, adding extra sugar, using butter instead of margarine or shortening, little things I don't even think about when passing along a recipe. So what does this have to do with writing short stories?

There is a basic recipe for writing short stories. They all have a beginning, middle and end. Each genre also has its own little quirks that need to be followed for their basic recipe. It's how we tweak these ingredients both in the basic outline and within the genre that makes the difference, that gives our own "flavor" to a story. And if we're lucky, our story will be flavored with the ingredients of our lives that will make it different from other writer's stories. We want, and need, our stories to be like homemade soup not the Campbell's variety.

And there's a great essay over at Storytellers Unplugged today by Gerard Houarner about writing short stories.

And a couple of quotes from the essay:

"But the short form is also an outlet for the restless imagination."

"If you're writing the same thing over and over again in short form, you're wasting your time."


Conda Douglas said...

This post brought back a recent memory: I was sharing a cake recipe with my sister-in-law, who owns a tea shop. I drove her nuts with my "tweaks" of the recipe because she needs the same result, every time. Of course in home cooking and stories, that ain't true.

Good post!

sandra seamans said...

It's the tweaking that makes a recipe or a story our own, Conda. And I've never met a recipe, I didn't change. :-)

Cormac Brown said...


Thanks for the mention and for the food analogy with writing (which is always the best way to get my attention).

sandra seamans said...

It was a lovely piece of writing, Cormac, and I love pieces that make me think.

Short stories are just like regional food - they have the spice of the people who live there.

Cormac Brown said...