Week # 4: Romance
Or: How Spicy is This Going To Be?
(This is Part 4 of a six-part series. Here is Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)
So, we’ve had an idea, brainstormed and have sorted out some sort of structure for our meal and for our story. Now we’re coming to the next phase. I need to reassess the work I have done, season, thicken, tweak and refine. I need to tighten up the plot, add descriptions and emotional nuances, elaborate here and there and spice up the characters in order to make this experience large and memorable.
Here’s the question: How much is too much? It’s easy to over-salt. And it’s just as unsavory to add so many foreign flavors that the original tastes of the foodstuffs themselves disappear underneath. Just the same, I can add unnecessary description and zesty scenes that will suffocate the plot and we forget the original story. I’m never sure how much seasoning I can lend to a good creation. Overdosed spicy-hot herbs border on scandalous and can spoil the event. On the other hand, too little won’t excite the guests and will leaving them wanting.
I have experienced a meal like this. The cook added so much spice that I wondered if he was just covering up the fact that he was unsure of what he was trying to accomplish. Now is the time to keep the goals in plain view. I have a meal comprised of quality ingredients and I want that to shine through. And I have a story that revolves around adult relationships, broken marriages, friendships; the human condition, compact and concise. (Oh, yeah, and a dead body.)
Many human relationships do involve some sort of sensuality. In my first novel, I wrote the intricate adult personal relationships with little physical contact. I was unsure how far I could go with it so I did nothing. Then I changed my mind and went full tilt, writing explicit love scenes. Neither approach suited me.
Josip Novakovich discusses love scenes in his book Fiction Writer’s Workshop, a book I highly recommend. It helped me a lot when I was writing the Heaven’s Ponds series. I wanted to include realistic, personal love relationships but I didn’t want to put an 18-plus warning on it. Novakovich takes a more poetic, metaphorical approach to describing a scene between two lovers. For my particular project, this take on writing love scenes helped me a lot. If I was writing erotica, this would not be the case. Again, it all depends on my goals, who I’m writing for and how I want to make people feel.
Personal love relationships are really the dessert of life. We may not always want them, but they taste so good. They can be unhealthy. They can make us over-indulge, are too rich and our bodies shouldn’t have as much as we sometimes give them (see: sugar shock.) But we crave them, don’t we? They taste like more. They fill that hole in the soul. Like brownies twenty minutes after they’ve come out of the oven, the chocolate chunks cooled but still molten. Served with a deep frothy mug of cappuccino, the earthy smell of fresh ground espresso beans surrounding the young man behind the counter who brushes your hand with his, smiles and winks a coffee-brown eye as he hands you your change.
Yes, Love is the dessert of life. Mmm, dessert…Oh my God! I haven’t decided on dessert yet! And I haven’t written the ending!
No, this story does not have an ending yet. Some writers have to know the ending before they begin this phase, others don’t. I tend to do both, depending on the project. All I know at this stage is that I want all this to end on a happy note, the meal and the story.
Once again, we’re trying to guess what the guests or our readers are going to want or need to call this experience fulfilling. A conservative ending? A twist? A classic? Would they rather a cheese platter after the main course? (I’d have one on hand just in case.) With a dry red Franconian wine. Or are the guests charged, animated, inspired, the correctly-dosed spices of the meal still tingling on their lips?
Right now, I would have a few tricks up my sleeve. I have alternate endings for the story and will remain flexible to see where the characters are going with their antics. For the dessert, I will have a few alternatives on hand too. But my main offering to crown the evening will be the king himself, HRH Ginger Cake.
Is this too spicy, too provocative, a little too pungent to end the meal? No, I don’t think so. This is the punch I want to pack. The guests will have had a few drinks. I’ll see a yawn and notice a few glassy stares. Satiated stomachs cause the eyelids to droop. What better way to illuminate the guests before I send them on their way than an espresso and a piece of Ginger Cake? Numerous discussions surround the search for the perfect recipe. And I have found one by Felicity Cloake using dried, fresh and candied ginger and Lyle’s Golden Syrup. Smile. I will share this with you here.
And I’ll end this story on a frosty November evening, the washing up forgotten and decorating the kitchen like a trophy to would-like-to-be gourmet cooking. The guests have gone home leaving behind a settling quiet. A ballad has taken on a life of its own–Stevie Ray Vaughn’s Lenny. The significant other returns, famished and looking for leftovers. Candles burn on the cleared table illuminating a glass of Remy, a mug of cinnamon-spiced apple herb tea and a plate of warm, dripping-with-golden-syrup Ginger Cake Love.