March 7th, 2010


Recipe for Great Writing

Last night I was talking to my cousin. She mentioned she had made quiche several times since her visit here in early February. During her visit I made quiche for breakfast and she loved it. I did not give her the recipe, she did not ask for the recipe. Yet, she knew the most important part of the recipe: the egg to milk/cream ratio. Equipped with the basics, she added the ingredients she likes. We are similar in our cooking philosophy: start with a basic recipe and then have fun with it.


I know others like me.


I also know many who, despite their passion for cooking, would sooner never cook again if they were denied a recipe. They follow the rules each and every time.


The more I thought about this notion of recipe following, the more I saw the parallel to writing. Specifically, how closely do writers follow the rules, or the recipe, for writing a good story? We all have countless books that tell us: adverbs can lead to indigestion; adjectives lead to a watery dish; information dumping is spice overload; long sentences are too difficult to chew. The list of No-No’s goes on and on. Yet, every time I read a book, I see the No-No’s. How can this be when we’re supposed to be following the rules, the recipe? Simple. At the end of the day, every writer is standing in a kitchen full of recipe books and it’s bursting with ingredients. Each writer has to decide which recipe to follow AND how much to follow the recipe.



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