How to cook up a novel
A Recipe for a novel
This recipe is for the most delicious, tastiest novel this century. You will certainly have all your dinner guests licking their lips, salivating and begging for more. Of course, you need to know who you are cooking up this delightful concoction for. If it’s only for you to eat, you can play around with the ingredients to your heart’s content, experiment a little, go into the dark side and wallow in there for a while, but if it is for many guests then you probably need to stick to the recipe a little more. Don’t deviate too much, otherwise the flavor might change and the aroma might be too pungent. The tastiest novel is not so much about the style or the perfect use of metaphor or beautiful descriptions of the way the clock ticks slowly, but about the story. And what makes a good story? Why, the plot and the characters of course.
Ingredients (This is what you need to shove into that chipped glass mixing bowl of yours!)
- A huge dilemma/crisis/problem/conflict, the bigger the better. Not too convoluted, as the dinner guest might lose interest as the twists and turns require too much concentration and your guest gets lost and gives up. The dilemma has to be real enough to grab the guest so that they can connect with it, and not too far-out that they can’t identify with it at all that they lose interest. You’ll have to taste little bits every now and then to ensure you have just the right amount. This is the tricky bit. The plot has to unravel sequentially. Remember, your dinner guest is there to eat up your novel, not develop a stress migraine. You should stick to the basic format of a beginning, a middle and an end.
- A good setting. If you think of anyone from a book or your life, they’re always in a context. They always come with a setting, a certain place and time, plus a whole lot of baggage clustered around them. Any character in your novel must have some sort of a backdrop. This makes them more believable. Rather than relying on interior monologues and streams of consciousness which could alter the flavor of your dish considerably, and slow it down somewhat, it’s often more effective simply to subtly slip in a telling detail about a the place where the character’s hanging around, and show how they interact with their environment.
- A few sub-plots to build up intrigue and make your dinner guest cry out in ecstasy or horror. Either way, you want to get a reaction from them. You want them to feel it, that cornucopia of tastes, sensations. Little interactions and conflicts between some of your other characters, their interactions with the protagonist. This helps make it all the more real. Nobody has a week without any kind of conflict at all, however minor. Life is all about solving conflicts.
- A point of view to maneuver your guest into the world you have created. Your guests are handing over all their sensory faculties to you. You have absolute control of them, and everything they experience is governed by what you choose to show or tell them. And to do this well, you have to decide whether you are going to use a first person, second person, third person, or multiple persons. Whichever point of view you decide with, you need to stick with. Swapping viewpoints is like hopping from red, to white, sweet wine, to dry, in one meal. You risk losing your guest, making them so inebriated that they no longer know if they are Arthur or Martha.
- A few great characters and a mouth-watering protagonist. Without character, there can be no novel, no matter how great the plot. The best protagonist is someone we can identify with for the duration of the meal. What makes a character interesting is not how the world impacts on them, but how they impact on the world. This is how the character develops. Only describing things that happen to your characters make them one-dimensional. Making your characters do and say things in an engaging way, giving them reasons, motivations and conflicts is what makes them three-dimensional and more believable. You want your dinner guests to talk about your characters at other dinner parties.
- Seasonings, add at your discretion, but do add some otherwise your recipe might turn out bland and leave your guests with no taste in their mouths. Some spice is always good, a little bit of sex to get the guests’ hormones going, action to give them a bit of an adrenalin rush; it tends to make the meat tenderer and easier to chew on. Salt and pepper are always essential. Good realistic dialogue, descriptions. A dash of herbs to add some color, maybe a slightly eccentric character with strange foibles. A bit of chili which could be suspense, humor or both.
Method of preparation (Knowing the order in which you mix the ingredients)
Prepare your chipped glass mixing bowl, your work space where you’ll mix your ingredients. First come up with the problem, the dilemma. Then add in the setting. Come up with some interesting characters. Write some character sketches first, know how they will think and act in different situations. It is only when you know how your character is expected to act, that you can introduce the element of surprise which definitely adds to the flavor of this recipe. Once you have your characters, add in the sub-plots and mix. Introduce the point of view and leave your concoction to stand for a while.
Transfer your concoction to a big black cauldron, and put it onto a slow heat. Stir carefully while cooking the ingredients, and slowly add in the seasoning, stirring after each type of seasoning is added. Stay vigilant and engaged, watching carefully that the liquid doesn’t evaporate so that your concoction is dried out and gets caught and burned out on the bottom. Do not let yourself get distracted from the novel you are cooking up.
Garnish and serve creatively on your best plates. The presentation is important, so check the spellings, punctuation, edit, revise and edit again. Your dinner guests will be back for more if you have taken care of their needs, which is flavor and presentation. You want them to leave satisfied, so that they tell other potential guests about the wonderful meal they had with you.