Saturday, August 25, 2012

How Writing a Novel is Like Cooking Thanksgiving Dinner

I originally wrote this post back in the summer... you know, when Thanksgiving is one everyone's mind (oh, wait, I think that might just be me). I'm recycling it in honor of the holiday (see how Earth friendly I am, with my recycling action).

I’m currently editing my first novel. My masterpiece. After taking my critique partner’s notes to heart, I’ve tweaked the hell out of it *weeping, wailing and gnashing  of teeth*. The word count, originally 175,000, sits at 104,096. Is it still a lard ass? I don’t know. On page 129 of 191 TNR, twelve point, single spaced pages, I'm hoping to trim that sucker down another four thousand words. I'm confident I can. (UPDATE: DEVASTATION is finished and now a svelte 93k- YAY, ME!)

This morning, I was struck with an amazing analogy (it's amazing because I say so, this is my world blog you know). Writing is much like Thanksgiving dinner. How on earth could writing possibly be compared to Thanksgiving dinner, you ask? Okay, we’ll pretend you asked. We'll also pretend each of the steps I describe for dinner are realistic for me. In all honesty, the reality of my Thanksgiving meal is less thought out and a whole lot less formal, but no less delicious, because if a dish doesn't taste good, I've got no problem throwing it out.

For at least a week  day or two before Turkey Day, I toss ideas around about what I’ll cook to make the meal special. Shopping lists are made and family members who’ll enjoy the meal with me to get contacted for their input (only those who I know will bring good food, too- don't give a crap what anyone who's not contributing thinks). The same goes for the idea for my novel (except getting others' opinions, here it's important). Somewhere in my wee little brain an idea forms and I stew on it for a while. I jot notes and ask my daughter what she thinks of my fabulous idea. Surprisingly, for my current novel, she loved it. This is huge, because she was fifteen at the time and pretty much everything I did or said was answered with loud rolling of eyes and exasperated sighs.

Hour upon hour is spent slaving away, cooking delectable dishes. I fuss over the main dish, making sure it's well seasoned. Then I add plenty of side dishes to keep the meal interesting. After all, no one wants to show up for turkey dinner and only get turkey. As I write, I make sure my main character is a little sweet and a little spicy. Plus, I create supporting characters to add flavor, some might be salty, others downright sour. Similarly, the main plot captures the attention of the reader, but throwing in a couple of subplots gives the book even more to savor. (Thinking of good food and cooking terminology isn't as easy as I thought it'd be. Just sayin'.)

I set the table, adding little touches of color with the table cloth, the candles and the centerpiece. Place mats, beautiful silverware, china, and crystal help my guests feel special and engaged with the lovely meal I’m serving (at least they should, if they don't that's on them). As I create the environment in which my characters live, I add color, landscaping, and all the small things that bring my character's world to life, smells, textures, background noises. This helps my readers feel more at home in my character’s world (if they don't then, in this case, it's on me).

I artfully arrange the food on the serving space. Some things might get shuffled around to help all the most important dishes fit. Sometimes I have set aside a couple of the less imperative dishes. I hate doing this, as I spent time working on those too. But you gotta do what you gotta do, ensuring all the best things are on the table and easily within reach of the diners. This is where I have to chunk a dish or two, the ones which didn't turn out just right. I may have to remake it or it's got to go altogether. You see where this is going? Scenes must also be rearranged on occasion, in order to make the story flow. Some must even be removed, if they aren’t necessary to the story or they simply didn't turn out just right. This part sucks because I love those scenes. They show off my characters' personalities or are just so pretty. Again, it has to be done.

Everything is devoured, most of it delicious. Of course, there's always the lumpy gravy or parts of the bird which are a little dry. I receive compliments, pat myself on the back for a meal well cooked, and get ready to sleep off the turkey stupor, while the guys watch the game. When I finish the first draft of my novel, I serve up my MS to my wonderful early readers. They congratulate me, giving me mostly positive, but some negative, feedback. I thank them, pat myself on the back for a novel well written, and pry my ass out of my desk chair before nerve damage occurs and it becomes permanently misshapen.

Now it’s time to clean up. Yuk. Who wants to do that? It’s a necessary evil. I can’t very well leave all those dirty dishes languishing in the sink and on the table. They’ll stink. For my MS this is editing. It’s the least fun portion of the process (I would compare it to jamming toothpicks under my fingernails). Yet, like those crusty dishes, it must be done. Otherwise, my novel will stink like three day old dirty dishes. I can’t have that, and neither should you.

What would you compare your writing process to? Make some comments and let me know.