Today, we feature Kristin Neva, an author and blogger. She co-authored Heavy, Finding Meaning After a Terminal Diagnosis. Her first novel, Snow Country, A Copper Island Novel, will be published this winter. She offers writers some god advice on mixing the flavors in your book. Her analogy to food casts the idea in such a way that we can all understand and use her advice. So, Kristin, the floor is yours.
Food comes to life when there are competing tastes. Sweet-and-sour stir fry. A spicy fish taco with mango salsa. And one of my favorite treats—a caramel granny smith apple with salty pecans.
I like caramel. I like apples. I like pecans. But all together, the flavors explode. The salt magnifies the sweet. The sweet accentuates the sour. Each flavor is more intense because of the contrast.
I use the term “come to life” because that’s just how life is, at times sweet and at other times bitter. And there are times in life when we have both the sweet and the bitter, all jumbled together, like a caramel granny smith apple with nuts.
It’s much like my personal experience walking through life with my husband’s terminal illness. Some of life’s simple pleasures—spending time together, seeing our children grow and mature—are made all the sweeter because of the bitterness of Todd’s ALS.
A good story is like that too.
A teenager gets his driver’s license, but crashes the car on his first night out.
A man dying of cancer walks his daughter down the aisle at her wedding.
A woman holds her baby for the first time with tears of joy, yet saddened at the thought of the difficulties he will face due to disability.
In Heavy, a memoir I wrote with Todd, we were dealing with an inherently sad topic—the first year after his diagnosis. A writing coach told us, “We like to say you need conflict on every page, but you need to balance that with hope. Let the reader come up for air from time to time.” So we added some of the lighter moments of the year, like our quest for an aluminum-free deodorant and a woman who feeds her dogs filtered water.
Those hopeful scenes made the book more true to life. After all, Todd wrote in Heavy, “There is pain and suffering in this world, but there is also joy, and not just suffering here and joy there, but suffering and joy in the very same place.”
In writing my first novel, Snow Country, a contemporary romance, I was sure to include a mixture of angst, sweetness, and conflict. However, I received feedback from early manuscript submissions like, “The pacing is off, as in it’s way too slow.”
As tough as it is to get a no, I cherished that rejection with an explanation.
I re-evaluated every chapter and realized my book was not balanced. I had conflict, but not on every page. In some places there was too much conflict, or too much angst, which didn’t allow the reader to come up for air. So I rewrote scenes, adding competing flavors.
A sweet date scene came to life when I ratcheted up the tension with a salty server. The waitress is surprised to see her friend Danny out on a date with Beth. She keeps Danny’s glass of Coke full, but ignores Beth’s request for water.
In scenes with too much grief, I added sweetness. In scenes with too much conflict, I added humor. It wasn’t enough to have conflict in some chapters and sweetness in others, because real life is often a mix of those elements present in the very same place.
Sweet, salty, sour flavors in food, life, and writing. Competing tastes brings them all to life.
You can find out more about Kristin and her blogs by visiting:
- NevaStory blog — http://nevastory.com/
- Author page and blog — http://kristinneva.com/
JIM: Add your comments on how to make your fiction comet o life. And thanks for visiting.