Every now and then, my duties around the house include the occasional evening when I’m responsible for cooking dinner. And by cooking, I really mean picking something up through a drive-through lane. But, once in a while, I get the itch to actually prepare something myself. Usually this entails sweating over a grill on our patio, not to mention an hour or so of prep work in the kitchen whereby I leave a destructive trail over everything my wife has tried hard to keep clean and spotless. Suffice it to say I’m not allowed to cook on a frequent basis, and I’m actually in agreement with that stance.
One of the dinners I like to prepare, or actually have more of a fondness of, is chili. The prep work, after all, is outrageously messy. As I was sorting through some recipes from Grady Spears (and if you aren’t familiar with Chef Spears and his Reata Restaurant Group then you’re missing out!), it struck me that writing good fiction is a lot like making good chili.
There are some basics that have to be mastered. Let’s face it, if you don’t include meat, red onions, and garlic in just the right amount of chicken stock then you’re not making good chili. Once the basics are down cold, that’s where a good batch of chili can shine – by adding a few pinches of something different and unique. Maybe it’s using Mexican oregano or tabasco sauce. Maybe a dash of pasilla powder. Whatever they may be, they make that particular bowl of chili stand out from the others and give it its own flavor.
It’s the same with writing good fiction. The basics of grammar, plot structure, dialogue, active tense, and points of view have to be learned until they become second nature, even instinctual. Without them our story will be flawed. Once they’ve been mastered, we’re free to add our own unique blends to the manuscript that can elevate it to the next level. Developing our voice, weaving detailed descriptions, and writing in the deep points of view of each of our characters are some of those personal blends that make our manuscripts one of a kind. And, like good chili, should leave people wanting more.