At the grocery store on Friday, I found a recipe for bean soup, picked up all the ingredients—ham, turkey sausage, onion pinto and white beans, bay leaves, chicken broth—and headed for home. I chopped the onion and followed the instructions provided by the expert Publix chefs, and violà…a tasty lunch treat for Bob and me.
That got me to thinking. Could writing a story be that easy? I don’t think it’s quite as straightforward as a recipe, but I believe there are similarities.
Recipe for a Great Story
1 specific memory
2 or more interesting people
1 unique place
¾ cup specific details
3 defined parts—a beginning, a middle and an ending
A dusting of action verbs
Season to taste with dialogue
1 intriguing title
Take one childhood memory and marinate in your mind. Saturate and allow to develop, but don’t leave it in your brain for too long. It’s apt to disappear if not quickly put down on paper.
Measure out two or more interesting people and write about what makes them unique—physical features, speech patterns and sayings, gestures, beliefs, disposition, background information. Add in one place—describe the location where the story takes place, what it looks like, what is found there, what is characteristic of this area.
Generously sprinkle the story with vivid details that help your reader visualize the memory. Make it a blue hydrangea rather than a pretty flower. Write the beginning, middle and ending, not necessarily in chronological order. Start with the most interesting part of the story, grab the senses of your reader and then proceed to fill in the details.
Completely coat your story with action verbs—words that convey movement, action such as ran, jumped, decided, strolled, raced. Avoid the less flavorful state of being verbs—is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been—whenever possible.
Season your story to taste with dialogue, knowing that this ingredient is reconstructed speech, a representation of what was said, not a verbatim transcript. Dialogue greatly enhances the flavor of the story by providing the taste of the person speaking and the texture of what is being said.
Top off the story with one intriguing title that commands the attention of the reader and urges him or her to read the first paragraph.