Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Soup Pot

Is there anything more satisfying than a good bowl of soup? That is especially true on these getting-colder days.

I started to think about it, and realized my approach to soup and writing is in some ways the same. Here are some of my rules of thumb:

1 - Preparation is important. There is nothing worse, when about to make soup, than finding out you are missing some key ingredients. And so it is with writing. You must be prepared, so if you're not sure of your spelling or grammar or other skills, do your homework!

2 - Take your time. Soup stock needs to simmer. I always take at least two days to make the stock for turkey or chicken soup, because nothing can replace the flavor you get from long, low simmering. Writing is the same. Don't rush your ideas; let them simmer and develop that full-bodied flavor that only comes from time.

3 - Skim the fat! I let my broth chill, and skim most, but not all of the fat off the top, or the broth will be too greasy. But fat is flavor, so leave in some! With writing, trimming the fat is just as important. Long passages of description need to be skimmed, but some description enhances the reader's experience, so don't take it all out, or you risk losing the flavor.

4 - Choose your ingredients wisely. I know some folks who just throw anything into their soup and generally... well, it can end up looking and tasting like dishwater. A good broth, long simmered and reduced, with bits of the meat and what the cooks call 'mirepoix' (onions, celery and carrots, diced) makes a wonderful soup in which the broth is the star. Throw in some pasta (noodles, broken spaghetti, elbow macaroni, or whatever you fancy) if you like, but it is not necessary. Writing is the same; do not try to throw everything at your story, or you'll end up with a dishwater book in which no one ingredient is dominant. Choose wisely, and limit your characters, plot devices, themes and conflicts.

5 - Learn from your mistakes. Over the years I've learned what doesn't work, with soup. One important tip: don't add salt or seasoning until AFTER the broth has reduced, or it will be too salty! And in your writing, pay attention to what others say, and take it in. Don't put up walls, but listen and decide if they have a different take on the 'flavor' of your writing than you do! Yes, you are the boss, but what good is that if no one enjoys the end product but you?

There is nothing more honest than a homely bowl of soup, or a good book, well written. So enjoy, both the process of making soup, and writing your book!