Sunday, January 30, 2011

Does Your Story Idea have Nutritional Value?

I know, I know--what the hell does writing have to do with bodily functions?

Everybody who took basic high school biology knows that chewing and stomach action start the digestion process and that the large intestine packages the remnants for a quick exit. In between the start and finish, the amazing small intestine does the real work, quietly munching on the soft mass passed down by the stomach. It extracts most of the nutrition from food. Writing follows a similar hierarchy to digestion.

After a writer discovers a concept, one with exciting possibilities, the author-to-be immediately begins “chewing” on the idea. The story soon begins its digestive journey as initial creativity prepares the story with a first chapter, a “hook” that foreshadows everything to follow. For some aspiring writers, this is unfortunately, where the process fizzles out. Despite an exciting concept and captivating opening, a weak plot blows right through the meat of the story, leaving behind a few gas pains and some irritating bowel sounds before blowing out in a pile of literary tripe. I’d like a dollar for every time I've bogged down in the middle of a story after realizing there really wasn’t much substance to the plot. What happened to that great “smelling” story concept that I started with?

Fast-food writing, that’s what I call it; a promising beginning, followed by very little “good stuff” where it counts most, in the body of the story. The truth is, writers cannot put French Fries into the literary small intestines and expect to extract the nutritional value of a Caesar salad. A writer might get excited about a Two-Pound-Grease-Burger and super-sized Soda story-concept (okay, okay, I know it’s a cheesy metaphor for an initial story idea), but writing would be better served if fast-food impulses are resisted in favor of story-concepts with more substance in the first place. Imagine if writers had to write truthful “nutritional labels” for their stories. “My story smells great and tastes awesome! Disclaimer - some readers experience a bad case of abdominal cramps about half way through the book. In rare cases, readers are reported to have broken out in cold sweats, followed by lengthy periods of moaning.”

There is a common expression used in the computer world, “garbage in, garbage out.” It applies equally well to both digestion and to the writing process. Writers should avoid story ideas with shallow concepts. Story ideas with healthy plot potential will produce happy fans and the writing will flow naturally, almost writing itself. That said, I’m hungry. Hmmm? KFC or Jack-in-the-Box? Naw . . . think I’ll have an apple--I’m writing tonight.


  1. I guess what some define as "Fast Food" content may vary--such as various types of romance novels--some love and devour and get a lot out of, others can't stomach in the least, and if they do, don't get much reading nutrition out of them.

    But, yes, there must be some real meat and potatoes, with a salad and glass of milk, in the project for it to carry reading nutritional value and not empty calories and a possible upset stomach.

  2. I'm not talking about genre-specific content. Romance novels (for example) tend to follow formulaic style dictates, but there is no reason why a romance novel can't be well written, with a compelling plot and layered characters. I'm describing stories that start out like gangbusters and fizzle out half way through the book, often with one dimensional characters, weak dialog and simplistic/obvious plots.

    Now you know why I enjoy your writing...great characters, lots of subplots and quality dialog. I always finish your stories feeling like a met some real person...even if that "person" was a tree with human DNA.

  3. Dean,

    Thanks for the compliment. "Vegetable Matters" was one of the more difficult stories to write...first person POV of a reporter, getting the story from the father of his 'troubled' daughter...and his motivation.

    I have another one coming out later this spring that I think you'll like as well. It's titled, "The Exchange Box." Another one I just received a contract for today, "Accelerated Justice." Both SF shorts.

    Of course, you know I've really enjoyed your works as well, both published and what I've had a glimpse at that you're working to get published.


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