I love to cook.  I love to cook so much, I once had a video blog starring myself preparing sushi, desserts, and even a Turducken.  Cooking is about restraint.  There is the tendency in cooking to want to dump all the shit you love into a pot and let it boil.  I learned my first lesson about restraint while cooking a pot of Japanese curry.  My girlfriend at the time tried to warn me in her subtle Japanese way, against putting monkfish into the curry.  I didn't listen.  In the past, when sauteeing it, the monkfish firmed up almost to the consistency of lobster.  I assumed that would be the case here.  It wasn't.  The monkfish, for reasons that still escape me, completely disintegrated, and what we ended up with was a pot of curry that tasted very fishy but didn't have the little delectable bits of lobster-like fish in it.  I've had a few other lessons like that since then.  Too much spice.  Too much garlic.  Too much meat.  Over the years I learned a bit of restraint.  I learned to master the subtleties of cooking.  Refined palates want hints of lime, or acid, or caper, or whatever.  The primary ingredients should be present in cooking, but mostly as canvas, or background.  It should be ubiquitous but not overpowering.  Once you have that going, you can begin to matte other flavors over top of it; a bit of red wine, some vanilla bean, or some secondary flavor that brings out the primary flavor subtly.

      As I was cooking a pot of dal last night I was thinking about this.  I had my iPad set up on the counter as I was cooking.  Pandora was playing a little bit of Thievery Corporation as I chopped onions, and garlic.  And I had an e-book displayed and glanced up occasionally as I was chopping (I know, not safe.), and reading.  The concept wasn't terribly original, but there was some real skill in the writing.  The author knew how to tell a story.  At the very least she knew how to assemble the basic elements of a story.  Before I go on, it is important to understand that this is something that writers often take for granted.  Most people cannot string two coherent thoughts together beyond what they have to on a daily basis (at least on paper).  And they certainly have no concept of artistry, description etc.  What I found, as I continued to read was, essentially, segments of non-stop violence followed by segments of endless conversation.  I could see what the person was doing there.  They were making the "Cool Shit Goulash".  Every awesome one liner they could think of and every well described event was crammed into this story.
       What some fiction writers fail to understand is that they aren't writing a movie. The same demand for quickened paces and non-stop action do not exist in writing, not even in short stories.  And even movies have such concepts as "rising action" and "falling action".  There has to be periods leading up to major events that allow for the event to stand out.  And there has to be a period after the event that allows for evaluation and assessment of what just happened.  Put more simply, if everything is climactic then nothing is climactic.  More importantly, this type of writing lacks subtelty.  Small things tend to make a story.  We can focus on the guy with the gun killing everyone which, is terribly uninteresting.  Or we can look at his motivations.  Hell, the killing may not even be the point of the story, but it can make a convenient plot device.  And honestly, even motivations can be a bit one dimensional.  But motivations offer the opportunity to deepen the character, and by extension, the plot.  Vengeance, for example, is the single most used motivation in fiction.  Yet even exploration of this motivation can still offer evolutionary opportunities that can make the work refreshing and original.

      Lastly I want to comment on pacing.  Over time writers will invariably fall into a natural rhythm (a good thing).  But let that rhythm form organically and naturally.  Allowing yourself to swept up into a fevered rush of putting your best lines and descriptions into a work can lead to woefully unbalanced works.  The human mind has the capacity to absorb a lot of information, and even more well described scenes.  But just like creating these scenes isn't a rush, absorbing them isn't either.  It's all very Taoist when you think about it.  Write to fill in the empty spaces where the reader's brain is not.  When their mind is retreating from you (or where you expect it to be), then advance.  And as you draw them out with intriguing bits of information continue by retreating from them.  Entice them into following you and spread your ideas and seductive language out on the floor in front of them.  It should continue like this, back and forth, until the story ends.  Not simply until its climax, because anyone who knows anything about climaxes knows that isn't the end.  Bring your readers gently back down to Earth until they are satisfied

 

P.S. I'd like to give out a ver special thanks to E.E. Cummings

P.P.S. The image for this post is something I actually cooked once.

About the author
J. Austin Yoshino
Author: J. Austin Yoshino
Editor-In-Chief
That's what I do; I read and I know things.
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