Wednesday, November 24, 2010

It's All About the Pie

Let’s face it: turkey is fine, mashed potatoes lovely. Cranberry relish, green bean casserole, squash—all very nice. But truly, it’s all just a prologue to the pie. One year, we counted 13 pies at our family gathering…for 20 people. Pecan, apple, raisin, mincemeat, pumpkin, cherry, banana. Whatever happens to be handy, you can guess that someone in my family will make a pie out of it.

I wish I had a recipe to share with you, but for the most part, the folks in our family (Grandpa included!) are big fans of the wing-it method. You peel and slice some apples, throw them into a pie crust, add butter, sugar and cinnamon and pop it into the oven. You just make it so it tastes good.

I think many would look at writing the same way. So many people try to say that romance is formulaic, that it’s all the same. Yes, we know there have to be certain ingredients (a pause here while we silently recount the criteria for a romance novel to ourselves), but it’s hardly a strict recipe. Some prefer the sweeter side, while others go a bit spicy.

The only way you’re ever going to know what “tastes good” is by reading a ton of books in the genre. What are the trends? What makes certain heroes more drool-worthy than others? What traits leave a bad taste in the mouth? What’s already been done? How can you take a theme that is popular and give it your own twist? You want to stay familiar enough to be accessible yet have a bit of a surprise element to give the book your own stamp.

Winging it doesn’t mean you’re throwing elements together without a plan. It means you’ve done enough research to know what works and what doesn’t. It means you’ve carefully studied the books on the bestseller lists, worked to identify the themes that make them so appealing, and then found a way to incorporate similar elements into your own writing, while still maintaining a unique flavor. Not exactly “as easy as pie,” but when done right, the effort will be so worthwhile.

Hope you all have a delicious Thanksgiving!

17 comments:

  1. Wonderful analogy. Makes me curious to know if plotters are recipe chefs while pansters wing it. I'm a blend of both in my life and in my writing but I probably lean farther toward the eat-a-lot-so-you-know-what-tastes-good approach.

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  2. Great analogy, Leah! I'm definitely a pantser. If I tried to plot out a story from beginning to end, I couldn't. I just end up staring at a blank computer screen. The twists and turns come to me as the story evolves. :) I'm the same way on cooking. Sure, some meals have tried and true recipe amounts that have to be adhered to, but others---they taste best when you add a little of this and a little of that. :) As to writing, I wholeheartedly agree about reading, reading, and reading.

    Once we had a critique partner who hated the concept of those senseless romance novels. But since they were selling well, she would write them. She wouldn't read them, barely would tolerate critiquing our stories, and told us any idiot could write them because they were so meaningless. Didn't take long for her to realize just how difficult it is to write a good romance novel. :) And of course she left the group, unromanced in the end. You have to love the genre you write in!

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  3. Thanks for the great post, Leah.

    I'm still working on my process. The more I write, the more I've learned to plan. I still can't plot the entire book, but I can now see the middle.

    A huge 'improvement" from a few years ago.

    Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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  4. Great blog, Leah!! (I'll take one of those pecan pies, pretty please. ;-)

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  5. You analogy is a good one, Leah.

    I've learned to tell who's serious and who's not, just by asking where their book fits in the great scheme of things--genre, subgenra, and style.

    If they don't know the answer...

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  6. Great analogy, Leah. I'm one of those cooks too. To me, recipes are merely suggestions for ingredients and measurements and are used as a checklist so I don't forget that one important ingredient. Thats pretty much how I write. I have my ingredients--characters, conflict, motivation and maybe a few funny situations, I mix them together until I get to my black moment. Let it stew a while, add that one last ingredient that pulls everything together and write my Happily Ever After.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

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  7. I was thinking the same thing Grace was, except that I have to have a recipe and I don't plot very well. Of course, I don't cook very well, either, so maybe there's something to that! The good thing about writing is you can always revise. When the family is sitting at the dinner table, hungry, it's not the best time to revise.

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  8. Clearly you folks all know exactly what you're doing!

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  9. Well said, Leah. And I, for one, am glad there are so many different "flavors" out there.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

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  10. Yes! Yes! Yes! I love pie. It's the best thing on the table at Thanksgiving. Pecan...oh I'm in heaven.

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  11. Whoops. Clicked too soon. With writing, I'm somewhere between a plotter and a pantser, but I tend to do most everything in life by the seat of my pants or on a whim. When the motivation strikes, I'm off and running.I don't measure, I don't follow recipes, but with my writing I've found it does help me have less work later on if I plot in the beginning, so I'm leaning toward plotting with the license to take off into left field if the notion strikes.

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  12. I'm a pantsalotter, starting out pantsing it, and then shifting more and more to plot as the story starts jelling.

    At this very moment, my mom is upstairs in my kitchen, baking pie.

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  13. Hmmm, I guess in writing I would be a plotsapantser. With pies, I plan to bake one tomorrow and I bought one at Costco... just in case. :)

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  14. Did someone mention pie?

    Great blog, Leah. I'm a pantser until I hit my first block and then I plot. I usually hit my first block about halfway through the ms, so most of my plotting is trying to figure out how to resolve all the pantsing I did in the first half of the ms. Not sure what that says about my baking skills. :-)

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  15. Love the analogy! I'm a pantser. I get the ideas for Book 2 when writign Book 1 and so on.

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