Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Think Stew--Not Soup--for your Story

I have a confession to make.  I really don’t like soup.  It’s okay as an appetizer, if you are fancy enough at your house to actually serve your meals in courses.  I’m lucky to get one thing made for dinner, but when we eat out here in Germany, often you get a little cup of soup and a little salad before the meal and that’s fine and lovely. It’s delicious, for the ten bites it take to finish it.  It whets your appetite.  But you know what that little bowl of soup does not do?  It doesn't satisfy your hunger.

Now, let’s be clear.  Some soups might as well be called stews and I’m not lambasting those.  Pasta e fagioli, for example, is at its best when it’s thick and rich, with so many noodles and chunky goodness of veggies in there that you can stick a cracker in that sucker and it’ll stand up straight.  Chowders, chilis, stews:  All good.  Of all the liquid-based dishes, those work wonderfully.

I’m talking about soups.  Thin, runny, often all one thing.  Like split pea soup.  Why is that ever a good idea?

Free image from MorgueFile: by Max Staeten

Some stories are like that soup.  They do one thing really, really well.  They are super green and healthy  perhaps.  Or maybe they are like chicken broth—nice and nourishing when you’re sick, but without anything much in it.  And a little of that is fine.  But if someone puts a tureen the size of your head in front of you, filled to the brim with split-pea soup, I think you might turn green yourself. 

No,  what is better is STEW.  Broth, yes.  But also vegetables.  Maybe bits of chicken if you’re not a vegetarian.  Beans. Some pasta swimming around in there, too.  Maybe even some crusty bread to dip into it.  A stew has all sorts of things going on, offering a variety of flavors and textures to keep you engaged with your meal, and full for hours afterward.

A good story does the same thing.  It has strong characters, but also an enticing plot.  Some spice sprinkled in with dialogue or perhaps luscious world-building.  The meat of the stew is something you can sink your teeth into and it warms you on a cold day.  And it’s the kind of food that you happily remember the exact taste of even hours later, when your belly is still gurgling happily from your meal.

Write stew, not soup.


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