Monday, October 26, 2009

Beats versus Potatoes

By Nichole Giles

The other day during a critique meeting, my friend, Danyelle, used a great analogy. Imagine for a moment that your story is a meal. The dialogue is the meat, because let’s face it; dialogue is a very important part of the story. We’ll call the narrative potatoes, and description, plot, characterization will be the vegetables and other side dishes.

The meat will help us get to know the characters, see the plot, and probably give us a T.V. screen view of what’s happening in the story. Without it, we really can’t see the full picture, and will be left wanting more.

The potatoes, on the other hand, will bring the reader deeper into the emotional realm, give them a better idea of what the characters are thinking, what they see—or think they see—and what’s happening in the background. This widens the picture a lot, but will probably leave several blind spots.

Both of these things are crucial toward creating a great meal, but if that were all you had to eat would that meal be balanced? Nope. Every story needs more than just those two essential items. That’s where the veggies and sides come in handy. They fill in those blind spots and complete the meal, and if we use them right, balance the story in the same way we’d hope to eat a balanced meal.

But how do you find the correct recipe in writing? Well, that’s where it gets tricky. Every author is different, and every story has a different formula. In the case of our critique group and the manuscript we were discussing during this analogy, we decided it needed more potatoes and some beats. Not beets the vegetables but beats as in character movements or actions in place of dialogue tags.

Using beats is a great way to break up dialogue, confirm who’s speaking, and show emotion without actually telling the reader what that character feels. And while beats aren’t actually a food when spelled with an a, they can often act as a bridge between the meat and potatoes, and help carry the reader through to the finale—dessert.

And as we all know, dessert is always the best part.

To find your recipe, read, read, read and write, write, write. Keep at it and never give up. After all, it takes patience to wait for a loaf of bread to rise.

Now on that note, I’m off to make dinner for my family. For some odd reason, I’m feeling mighty hungry.


ali said...

Awesome analogy Nichole! Loved it. And I wholeheartedly agree.

Nichole Giles said...

Thanks, Ali. Gotta let the food cook, right?


Marcia Mickelson said...

I like that analogy. It's a good one. I love good beats in a story and also love beets as well.

Nichole Giles said...

Thanks Marcia, glad you enjoyed it. I really like both beats and beets as well, so we have that in common. =)

Thanks for commenting.


Chantele said...

Great analogy, even though I think beats taste like dirt...;)

Nichole Giles said...

Well, we can't all like every food on the table. Would you like to substitute carrots instead?


kersten campbell said...

I love that analogy!

Tristi Pinkston said...

I love beets, and beats too ...