Season From High Above

In a previous blog, I mentioned my soon-to-be-released novel The Potion. I was reminded of something during the process of producing this book: creating a seamless, engaging, cohesive story line is HARD.

You have to think of every scene and every chapter as individual entities, yet as part of an interweaving whole. Every single thing that happens in a novel has to be relevant to everything that follows it, as well as everything that came before it. So you have to have a bird’s-eye view of it in order to get an overall handle on the story. It’s kind of like circle crops—you can’t really see them on the ground, but an aerial view will reveal the pattern. But getting up high enough to do that isn’t easy.

When I was in culinary school, one of my instructors was teaching us one day about how to apply salt to food. (Yes, believe it or not, there’s a special technique to applying salt.) He said, “Season from high above.” In other words, sprinkle the salt into your dish well above it, not down low to it. The reason for this is that the salt disperses more evenly that way, and you have more control over where it goes.

That’s how a novel needs to be written: from high above. You need to be able to see the entire pattern, the entire dish, in order to season it properly. All the elements in a dish have to work together. They have to pop on their own, yet complement everything on the plate. They have to work together, because even if each element is good on its own, if it doesn’t work with everything else, it simply can’t go on the plate. Chocolate is, like, the best thing in the world. On the other hand, pasta is the best thing in the world (as an Italian, I’m required to say that). But you’d never put chocolate on pasta, would you? (And if you’re the kind of weirdo who does that, I’d keep that to myself if I were you. By the way, there is a such thing as chocolate pasta , but that’s completely different.)

Have you ever completely loved a scene or a chapter, but after all was said and done, your editor insisted you cut it because it just didn’t work in the story? That’s the chocolate on the pasta—you might love chocolate, but a great pasta dish it does not make. Save it for something else.

So, how do you get up high enough to season your novel evenly so that every scene, every chapter has flavor on its own but lifts the whole?

My first suggestion is to take a break from it. When you’re done writing your novel, put it away for a while. Don’t look at, don’t think about it. Go work on something else. When you go back to it, you’ll have a fresh eyes. My second suggestion is to have a beta reader, someone who is not connected to the publication of your novel, go through it. This should just be a straight-through read to get a reader’s perspective (as opposed to an editor’s or publisher’s). Any issues/questions that your beta reader has are things you should look at. This will help you see things that you may not have otherwise seen. This is all, of course, before you submit the novel to a publisher for consideration.

When you get to a point where you can look at your novel somewhat objectively, look for connections between your story elements, and seek out disconnects. Look at everything to make sure it all fits together. Then lift your hand and season it well and evenly. That’s how you create a blue-ribbon dish…and a well-written novel.

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