Sunday, March 18, 2012

Recognizable Ingredients... The Pieces Of A Good Story

  This week has been rather difficult. I've never mentioned it on the blog, but I have these rather icky ongoing stomach problems. I've found a couple of things that make them vaguely better, but still don't know what's causing the problems. My doctor suggested I see an Allergist, that perhaps I'm having an allergic reaction.

  The test was quite weird. They put drops on your arms and then prick you to see if welts rise up on your arms. Through the test, I found out that I have a mild allergy to soy. My fiance found it pretty darn hilarious that I'm allergic to tofu. (I have been trying to get him to eat tofu for years.) I thought it wouldn't be a big deal. I mean, I don't drink soy milk and I can stop eating tofu and soy sauce. Well, as it turns out, soy is in just about everything. So for the next two weeks while I'm going off soy to see if it makes a difference, I have to be very careful. Because soy is in pretty much every processed product known to man. Breads, most cereals, most frozen meals, bouillon cubes,  even the delicious pre-made pizza that my fiance's parents dropped off for us today.

    And that is how I ended up in Whole Foods, scanning the Ingredient Lists for all I was worth. My fiance has a natural aversion to Whole Foods, because they don't sell diet soda, a food that is central to his existence. But in this case, he agreed that Whole Foods might actually help.

    Here's the other kicker... soy has lots of other names on ingredient lists too. Hydrolized Vegetable Protein, Natural Flavoring and even the old standby MSG is made with soy. Since soy has so many different alias, I started hating the Ingredients lists that had twenty five different things that I didn't recognize. TBHQ, Acetic Acid, carmel color, trisodium phosphate... what is this stuff? I started really liking it when I recognized ingredients. Wheat? Fantastic. Eggs? I know what that is. Almonds? Got it.

   And it got me thinking. It's the same thing in stories. If there aren't just a few elements that readers recognize, you've lost the ability to have the reader participate in the story.  When readers recognize a concept or a setting in the story, it gives them a foothold in the story.

   Take for example, Harry Potter. A unique fantasy that has engaged children and adults alike. It has a recognizable setting, (a school) and a recognizable archtype, (witches and wizards). The reader automatically says, "yes I know what wizards are, they cast spells, and I've been to school too." Harry's adventures combining school and wizardary are so unique, it makes them exciting to read about, but the reader feels like they have something familiar in the story. And I think that's important.

    I know this is probably a thought that will ring truer with fantasy and sci-fi writer's more than others. I know it may seem like common sense. But you have to admit, when you get wrapped up in an idea off catapulting into other worlds and making up fun vocabulary names for odd new life forms, sometimes it's good to be reminded that a little bit of familiar can go a long way in a story.


  1. I completely agree with this, and while I do understand why it might be more important in sci-fi fantasy, I think its very relevant to all story telling. We all like to be able to relate to the characters and/or setting, at least a little. Sometimes we need to be able to think, 'gosh, I know what THAT feels like.' Or 'I've totally been there.'

    The cool part about the story then is we get to see how particular characters deal with those issues. Whether they are like how we would do it or not.

    I hope your stomach pains feel better!

  2. GAH maybe thats what my writing needs, more simple. LOL.

  3. You're right I think in every genre. I guess it's kind of like handing your kids a plate of food...if it looks totally foreign, the reject it right off. I never thought of it, but you're right.

  4. Good luck with the tofu/soy. I had no idea soy was in everything.

  5. Thanks for the best wishes with the allergies, guys. I've made it a week, we'll see how it goes next week. Sara, we like your writing as it is... twisted. Lol, I'd never thought of it in the dinner plate arena Elizabeth.... maybe there are picky readers like there are picky eaters. Yup Libby, I was surprised myself how much soy is in.