Hello, my Lovely Readers! Somehow it's Friday again, and I hope you've all had a great week.
Yesterday was my dad's birthday and, as is my tradition, I dragged him out for a birthday lunch. He's a tiny bit of a hermit, my father (probably where I get it from) and so getting him to eat out is challenging. But he usually enjoys it when I manage it, and that ensures I keep up the effort. He's a simple guy at heart, though. Even when I do shoehorn him from the house he never wants to eat anything fancy or indulge himself, not even on his birthday. Despite my taking him to a posh bistro with all kinds of interesting things on the menu and offering him free rein, the man ordered a simple chicken and bacon club sandwich.
However, because it WAS a very nice bistro, I was pleasantly surprised when my dad's lunch arrived. It looked pretty spectacular - there must have been half a roast chicken in there, along with about five slices of bacon, and he also had an amazing salad garnish and curly fries. They'd stuffed so much into the sandwich that they'd been forced to put those little wooden cocktail sticks through it just to keep the toasted bread together. I was sort of wishing I'd ordered the same thing when I realised that my dad was not making pleased sounds. He was sighing.
Restraining my instinct to interrogate him (no one likes being interrogated by me, least of all on their birthday) by way of eating my own lunch, I watched as my dad tried to pick up half the sandwich in three or four different ways without causing it to disintegrate. When he finally managed to get the thing off the plate he had just as much of a struggle taking a bite out of it, as it was twice as wide as his mouth. Eventually he ended up just using a knife and fork to dismantle the thing. He ate about two thirds of it, and most of the curly fries, and then sat back and poured himself a cup of tea.
"It was fine," he assured me. "It was all really good. There was just...too much of it."
"Too much? But it's all your favourite things! How can there be too much?"
He shrugged. "I don't know, flower. I mean, I like chicken and I like bacon, and I like both in sandwiches. But the amount of filling stuffed into this was overwhelming. It felt less like eating a sandwich and more like trying to eat a two course meal slapped between slices of toast. After the third bit of bacon or whathaveyou, you're just struggling on. But it was still good!" he added hastily, seeing my crestfallen expression.
Now, this may not seem to have anything to do with writing. In fact, it doesn't. But my brain, as we all know, is hardwired to try and turn pretty much anything that happens in life into a writing related metaphor. So later on, I found myself thinking about this, and deciding that there's a lesson about plotting to be learned from these lunchtime shenanigans.
When you first come up with an idea for a story, it can often be vague. You know, to bring the metaphor into it, that it's a club sandwich, but what KIND of club sandwich is another thing entirely. You've got a beginning or an ending or both in mind if you're lucky (like slices of toast on either side of the plot, holding it together). Maybe some blurry ideas for one or two developments in the middle, or some characters you really want to get to know better (that's the chicken and the bacon). You might have an idea for the feel of the thing (mayonnaise or ketchup or barbecue sauce? White bread or granary? Extra salad in the sandwich?).
And so the temptation, like the temptation given into by the chef at the bistro, is to quickly throw all the ingredients together in the traditional way (quick, quick - no time to consider trying different things or experimenting) and if it looks a bit thin, just grab some extra bits of bacon or chicken (plot twists you've seen in other books or half-developed echoes of characters that you have in the back of your head) and stuff those in. In fact, the more the merrier! Chicken and bacon are good, right? So if you add more, it can only make the sandwich better. When you finish the whole thing seems a bit shaky and like it might fall apart, but no big deal. Get out your cocktail sticks (maybe a stock romance that you've seen a hundred times before, or some other plot element that always seems to work for other writers) and pin it all together that way. Then add some garnishes (some pasted on descriptions that leap to the top of your head) to pretty things up, and off it goes, looking amazing! Job well done!
The problem is that this sandwich hasn't been put together with any thought of the person who is going to be eating it on the other end. How is this person supposed to pick up such a towering confection, or even take a bite out of it? This thing isn't even a sandwich anymore! For the reader, this book may be stuffed to bursting with cool and interesting things, but it's hard for them to appreciate any of it because the writer's not taking due care with what they present. It's a jumble. It's all too much. It's not a story; it's a mishmash.
Have you ever read a book like that? Where brilliant ideas were almost falling out of the sky, where there were dozens of interesting characters, and yet the whole thing just didn't work? It felt less like a story and more like an endless series of events and people, with nothing was properly explored? I come across these all the time and it exasperates me, because I know that if the writer had just waited a bit, considered a bit more calmly and carefully, they could have selected one or two of those plot elements and characters - the ones they truly loved and were interested in - and made them amazing. They could have allowed the fineness of the ingredients to shine through, like a lovely sandwich with just the right amount of filling. Instead of which, you're forced to slog through seemingly endless amounts of filler until it all begins to taste the same.
(And BTW - I'm making this up to my dad by taking him out for a fish and chip supper over the weekend. He likes the fish and chip place better than fancy bistros anyway. *Shrugs*)