Saturday, August 23, 2008

Going to the Store

By Keith Fisher

It’s been kind of hectic lately. I’ve been trying to finish the edits on my book and my day job is always disruptive. I work graveyard shift, so sleep can be elusive. Anyway, because of an unsettled week, I’ve been pressed for a subject to write about in this blog. So, out of desperation, I thought I’d tell you about my trip to the grocery store.

The guests were invited—the Dutch ovens were ready. I wanted to cook something special, something my guests would enjoy. So I went to the store to decide what it would be.

Walking through the doors, I spied the coolers and made a mental note to pick up a bag of ice on the way out. I stopped and chose a cart. Not that I planned to fill it, just lean on it, as I walked down the aisles.

As I always do, I turned to the right and headed for the produce department. Starting with vegetables is probably left over from my low-fat/no sugar/no salt period when I avoided the rest of the store. It just feels right to start there, and go counter-clockwise through the rest of the store. I checked out the broccoli, then the cauliflower, lettuce, carrots, and fruit. It’s a good thing I got a cart.

Next, I moved past the deli. I paused, thinking, maybe I ought to buy something already prepared, then I could serve it in a Dutch oven and get back to editing. No, I couldn’t take credit for somebody else’s cooking. I turned my head and passed quickly. In the bakery, I picked up a couple of loaves of bread for home, and perused the cookies, cakes and pastries. I must resist.

I remembered my purpose and delayed the trip down the aisles of canned goods to go directly to the meat section. I needed to decide on a main dish. After that, I could make up my mind about side dishes.

With that decision made, I went back and wove in and out of the aisles, looking for different ingredients. I chided myself for picking things up for the house.

I needed only one or two more things when something stirred my memory. I realized I could change my plan and cook the meat with another sauce. But then I’d have to change my side dish from baked beans to potatoes, but the whole meal would be better.

After a short debate, I went back to find more ingredients, keeping the other ones in case I changed my mind again. Finally, I shook my head and proceeded through checkout. I racked up a small fortune on my credit card, but visions of a perfect dinner made it worth the cost.

Writing is very much like this. When plotting a story, we shop for ideas. We want our book to be perfect to excite the reader. So we go shopping for the meat of the plot—the basis of the whole thing. We pick up other, non-essential elements along the way, things that we can use somewhere, even if we don’t use them in our current story.

It must be original, so we avoid copying parts of other books, but like the pastries, we admire what other authors have written and learn from them. At this point we remember our purpose and look for the basic premise, or the meat of the story. Sometimes an idea comes to us without thinking, but other times we are left reading newspapers, looking for ideas. Similar to inspecting different cuts and types of meat.

With our idea in mind, we shop for details, what will our characters be like? How can we put them in certain situations? We search for side trips, and secondary story lines, we look for ingredients that will compliment, not deter the plot. We find nuances that enhance, and make the story interesting.

Sometimes when we’re almost finished writing the first draft, we think of another, better way to write the book. Sometimes a character rises up and explains the holes in our plot or suggests a better way to tell the story. They even suggest new characters. At that point, we go back and make adjustments. We file away the discarded bits, because we might need them in another story—we might put them back into the current one.

When we’re finished making notes and shopping for elements we go to checkout. We have written our first draft, and we’re ready to write the story, confident in our ability to combine the ingredients. We pay the price, an investment of time and talent. We’re secure in the knowledge that our dinner/book will be delicious and wonderful. We smile, because we know the ending and we can’t wait for others to discover our story/dinner.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.


ali said...

I love it Keith - that was a great analogy.

And since I'm not that good a cook, maybe that explains why I'm often left standing in the aisles completely dumbfounded as to what to get. So we eat out instead!

Maybe that's why my writing has stalled lately - I'm missing that magic ingredient that just pulls it all together.

Time to go shopping I guess!

Marsha Ward said...

How awesome that you got all those great writing parallels out of a trip to the grocery store! Well done, Keith!