Sunday, May 22, 2011

RECIPE FOR A STORY

Listening to "True Faith" courtesy of Anberlin


Attended a birthday party today at a local park and when an old ice cream truck rolled in front of the bowery, someone yelled out, "Hey, is that the 'Rapture Wagon'?" I know, bad joke, but you smiled. In any event, I for one, am glad the world is still intact with all its imperfections.



Moving on slowly and with toothpicks propping my eyelids open, I ask how important is using the right ingredients in making a recipe successful? If you don't have all the ingredients, will the cake rise, the souffle sink, or the soup taste bland? Nothing's yummier than a chicken casserole...without chicken, right?

The same holds true to a story. If all the ingredients aren't included, your book lacks the substance it needs to hold your readers' attention, or hook them enough to want to buy your next one. Is there a recipe for a good book? Well, I'm not as seasoned as some and have done some major tweaking to get my story recipe correct, but through trial and error (and very patient editors and beta readers), my "creative casserole" is worthy of public tasting.



Like most recipes, there are "key ingredients." I've chosen "Jack and Jill" as my unsuspecting victims to use as visual aids. Their story is simple...or is it? Does it "lack" the right ingredients to make it rise to the expectations of its readers? Well, considering the readers it's aimed at can't read, I guess it does. But now that we're all grown up, what questions do we have for Jack and Jill? Let's get out their "story recipe."



GOAL:  Your character has to have something they're striving to achieve. Something that makes your readers want to be their cheerleaders. When Jack and Jill start up the hill, they have a goal. To get water. We picture the well at the top of the hill, or the stream of fresh water tumbling over rocks, or a clear spring nestled under the shade of leafy tree branches. We see their "goal."



MOTIVATION:  Your characters must be driven to achieve their goals. Something makes them want to succeed. Your readers should become emotionally vested in seeing your hero/heroine reach their goal. What could motivate Jack and Jill to traverse a mountain to fill pails of water? Thirst would be the obvious answer, but good writers don't write the "obvious." We present a puzzle, minus a few key pieces. Maybe there is a terrible drought plaguing the small village where Jack and Jill live? Maybe Jack just wants to get Jill alone on top of the hill and is using the "pail of water" as his pick-up line.



"Hey baby, want to climb a hill with me and fill a pail of water? We could pack a picnic, take a blanket, and make a day of it. Maybe stay and watch the moon rise? Maybe...."

Now we have "motivation." Jack wants to jump Jill's bones.




CONFLICT:  Something has to get in the way and keep our heroes/heroines from racing up the hill and filling their buckets. This is where the plot thickens and authors create the twists and turns that keep their readers frantically turning the pages.

Perhaps a love triangle forms. Jill gets some competition. Maybe little Bo Peep is tired of tending sheep alone and has her eye on Jack. She lures him to the pasture by crying "wolf" and when he shows up to save her, she's shed her frilly bonnet and is only wearing her eyelet edged knickers. Hooking the shepherd crook around Jack's neck, she pulls him far away from any thoughts of climbing a stupid hill.



Jill's left standing at the bottom of the grassy knoll with a picnic basket and patchwork quilt, but Jack never shows with the water pail. Is she early, or is Jack late? Maybe he's already at the top of the hill waiting and they just got their signals crossed? When Jack explains his absence, does he confess or concoct a lie? Does he escape the cagey clutches of Bo Peep and rush to the hill, only to find his true love has dumped the picnic in the dirt and scrawled a death threat on a napkin?

There's the three main ingredients to a story recipe. Now you get to add the rest of the ingredients that flavor the story and create the finished product. The chocolate chips to a cookie, the icing on a cupcake. Your perfect ending. Jack and Jill must resolve their issues and bring their story to a satisfying ending.

Maybe Jill has second thoughts and turns back toward the hill. She sees Jack's silhouette against a fiery sunset, pacing at the well. She rushes up the trail, all the while imagining the worse so when she arrives at the crest she's so damn angry that when Jack opens his mouth with the all familiar male preface "let me explain," she whacks him, knocking him off balance. Jack tumbles down the rocky slope ("fell down and broke his crown" is taking on a new meaning), and when he hits his head on a rock and is knocked unconscious, Jill feels horrible. She rushes down the hill feeling guilty and trips over the stupid petticoat the author placed her in, and rolls to his side. He takes her in his arms, professes his undying love and ..... happily-ever-after. Or he dies and Jill skips off into the sunset to meet Johnny Depp (my idea of "happily-ever-after"). Either way, its a happy ending. The icing on the cake.



In Romance there must be a happy ending. Jill will believe in Jack and all will be forgiven.

In Young Adult, there must be an element of hope written into the happy ending. While Jack has been in a coma for six months, Jill finds out the bitch Bo-Peep is to blame and Jill remains at Jack's bedside until the tiny signs of life appear - the finger twitch, her name being the first word he speaks. Hope emerges.




In a Mystery, the puzzle must be solved. Jack's lifeless body is found next to the abandoned picnic, the napkin with the death threat scribbled on, fluttering from beneath a fried chicken leg. Grease spots taint the hand writing sample, but the lipstick mark to the side of his mouth carries the DNA the CSI team will need to solve the murder. Is it Bo-Peep's kiss goodbye, or Jill's kiss of death? Jill will be found and Bo-Peep will tearfully testify to being abandoned and Jill will pay for the crime. Mystery solved.



A reader going to bed with your book and not being able to sleep until it's finished is an author's goal. We want you to love our stories and characters as much as we do. They are such a big part of our lives while we create their world, that we are anxious for you, the reader, to feel the same thrill we did in writing the book.



The same is true when we serve something special to our famished family, close friends, or a congregation of people of a civic function. We want to take away the empty bowl or platter, knowing what we served was satisfying to the partaker. Someone asking for our recipe is a compliment in much the same way as our readers express their excitement in wanting to know when our next book will be released. We've satisfied the "partaker." Our "recipe" turned out successful.



Memorial Day is rounding the corner! (Hell, I've got to start Christmas shopping! This year is flying by.) If you are hosting or attending with a request to bring something "satisfying" (preferable for a large crowd), I'm sharing a favorite recipe that feeds 15 people, or 20, if you add marshmallows. It's refreshing, fruity, and the leftovers will keep for several days with a freshening of cool whip.  Here's to the next round of "holidays!" Enjoy, and as always, thanks for stopping by and supporting me. 


Joelene - Harley's off chasing Johnny Depp wearing Bo-Peep's knickers - he's in pirate mode again! 

Frog-Eye Salad

Ingredients:
Box acini-de-pepe (found in pasta aisle)
1 lg can pineapple tidbits (drained - juice reserved)
1 lg can crushed pineapple (drained - juice reserved)
1 lg can mandarin oranges
1 lg container Cool Whip
*maraschino cherries (optional)
*1 - 2 cups miniature marshmallows (optional)

1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 TBL flour
1 & 3/4 cup pineapple juice (from fruit - can add water if not quite enough)
1 TBL lemon juice
2 eggs (slightly beaten)

Cook one box of acini-de-pepe 20 minutes. Drain & rinse. While macaroni is cooking, prepare sauce (2 qt saucepan).

First:  Combine dry ingredients
Second: Mix wet ingredients, then add to dry mixture and heat over medium heat, stirring frequently to keep from scorching. The mixture should thicken (takes 15-20 minutes)
Third:  IN LARGE BOWL - Pour sauce over cooked macaroni and place in refrigerator to cool (4 hrs to overnight - I have rushed it by placing the bowl in the freezer for 30 minutes after a couple of hours, but works better the longer the flavors can meld).

Add drained fruit, marshmallows*, 2/3 - 3/4 of large container of Cool Whip or all of regular size Cool Whip (depending on how creamy you want) and mix well. Garnish with maraschino cherries* (*if desired.)  Note: There supposedly used to be an easier recipe on box of acini-de-pepe using pudding, but I have found the homemade sauce to be sweeter (the other leaves a tangy aftertaste).


See you for "Wacky Wednesday" where anything goes!

4 comments:

calisarhose said...

I never looked at Jack and Jill this way. And now, I'll never look at them the same again! *hides granddaughter's copy* I don't allow my grandkids to read what I might write! lol

And you've made me hungry! I'll have to try this recipe.

Sandy B said...

Johnny Depp? The reason I am boycotting this latest Pirates movie is because they omitted Orlando Bloom.

Good blog. We know the recipe, but do we always follow it?

J. Coleman said...

They took out Orlando Bloom??? Well hell. Now who's my other wandering eye supposed to watch? Thanks for stopping by!

Christina Wolfer said...

LOL! I'm with Calisa and won't ever look at the story of Jack and Jill the same again. Not a bad thing really.