Friday, August 30, 2013

Cold Water in a Hot Pan

FYI, this is what happens when you add cold liquid to a hot pan.

Don't worry, only my pride was wounded.

It was the middle of a busy weekend and we'd spent an entire day running errands around town. Dinner was supposed to be done in twenty minutes. The chicken looked and smelled delicious, but the Asian sauce was starting to overcook and turn into a bubbling, black glaze in the bottom of the baking dish. No biggie. I'd just pour some chicken broth in the pan to deglaze it and keep it from burning any further while it finished cooking. Without thinking, I did what I've done a dozen times in my metal roasting pan - I grabbed an open box of broth from the fridge and started to pour.

The second the pan exploded with an adrenaline inducing BANG! I realized my mistake. Epic housewife fail. My dear husband (once he recovered from his near heart attack) was sweet enough not to tease me, and immediately took charge of ordering and picking up take-out from the only restaurant within ten miles of our house while I swept the glass off the floor.

The next morning, equal parts embarrassed and annoyed, I set to work cleaning out the inside of the stove-turned-blast-zone. Like any good writer trying to build a platform, I thought to myself, "How can I use this in a blog post?"

As I carefully dropped chunks of Anchor Hocking into the trash, I landed on an idea. The perfect analogy. (Okay, maybe it's not perfect, but bear with me).

Have you ever been in the middle-lands of your story and found it wanting? Nothing is happening. The highlight of your last chapter was your main character's grocery list. Or maybe the story is progressing and things are going smoothly - but that's the problem. Smooth is boring. Smooth has no pizazz. Smooth is the opposite of that story-sustaining thing called conflict.

You need to throw cold water in a hot pan. Create an explosion.

There's a commonly hailed rule of thumb among those of us who participate in NaNoWriMo: Story lagging? Kill someone off! But it doesn't have to be that drastic. Chances are, somewhere within your story is something you can use to catapult your tale to the next level. What can you make go wrong? Do it. Which character is supposed to be your MC's ally? Make 'em go dark side.

My very first NaNoWriMo, my story was chugging along, but I was seriously beginning to doubt my ability to sustain it to 50,000 words--not to mention whether it was interesting enough for someone to want to read it to that length. I needed something unexpected to happen. And then one day, as I sat at my desk typing away, my main character's contact in the realm he'd just entered--the person who was supposed to be his only ally in a foreign land--poured him a cup of tea. Spiked with a drug that would render my MC unconscious. I would love to tell you this was a brilliant and intentional strategy, but the honest truth is, it wasn't planned at all. I literally looked at my computer and said--out loud--"You weren't supposed to do that."

But...BOOM! It worked. The heat was already there, it just needed the cold water. And the resulting conflict gave me exactly the twist my plot needed and carried my story through to its conclusion.

Sometimes we get lucky and the story writes itself. Other times you have to search out the solution. Either way, don't be afraid to do something unexpected, even if it wasn't what you originally planned.

Because a burger and fries can taste really good even though you planned on having chicken for dinner.

What about you? Do you have a kitchen disaster story? Share in the comments! Maybe there's an analogy in there somewhere. Or the beginnings of a "What Not to Do in the Kitchen" handbook...

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