Story Soup

I had to explain overcrowding to an artist/creator the other day, and I wanted to share this thought.

When you’re writing a story – this can be prose or a comic or even non-fiction – you should think of it like making soup. It can be really temping to throw all your favorite ingredients into the pot, but there’s a good chance it won’t turn out tasty.

My two favorite soups are Italian Wedding and Hot and Sour. These are two very different soups with very different flavor profiles. While I’m making soup at home, it wouldn’t be a good idea to take a bowl of Italian Wedding and a bowl of Hot and Sour and mix them simply hoping for the best. You really have two options. A ) Stick with one soup or the other. Learn to make each soup really well and indulge as you see fit. Or B ) Learn to make a third equally tasty soup.

Storytelling follows this same rule. I love a good fantasy. I like magic and strange creatures – far off places and a prince in disguise! I also like science fiction. Not so much aliens, but a good cyberpunk really does it for me every so often. Following the aforementioned logic, I should either focus on fantasy elements or focus on science fiction elements. The story won’t work if you try to throw in every trope that tickles your fancy.

But wait! You might try to say that you can make a cyberkinetic centaur work!

I’m not saying you can’t. Let’s return to the soup.

This falls under the category of a third equally tasty soup. What elements work well together? Both Italian Wedding and Hot and Sour are broth based. So this third soup can have a good loose broth. Nothing too thick. Both can handle pork. So we have pork in a broth. Spices: Personally, I find that basil and soy sauce clash so, so badly. But garlic and sweet heat are in both soups. This is almost a full fledged soup!

So, my point is – for young writers and creators – it can be really tempting to throw ALL your favorite ideas into a story, but most often that’s going to be a really bad idea. Take the time to study your ideas. Find out what works together – find out what fits. Maybe you think basil and soy mesh. Maybe you’ll learn it doesn’t. Just remember to develop a single flavor profile or your story will be overwhelming and confusing – just like a hot and sour wedding.

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