A Cook’s Guide to Writing – Garnish Isn’t Just Pretty

Tropical Coconut DrinkIf you’ve reached a comfort zone with cooking and are confident your dishes taste good, you’re probably at the stage where you want them to look good. If so, you’re ready for the garnish. For most of us it’s a simple sprig of herb placed on top. If you are especially handy with a paring knife, the fancy carved vegetable varieties can showcase your artistic side (face it, you’re an over-achiever with way too much time on your hands and I am envious but applaud you).

These fancy touches sometimes confuse the guests, however, and as lovely as they look you may have them pondering: Do I eat it? Do I leave it on the plate and hide the evidence that I licked the plate clean? What idiot thought a protruding object belonged in a glass that comes disturbingly close to my eye?

Garnish is supposed to hint at an ingredient found in the dish, like slices of candied lemon curled on top of a lemon bundt cake or sprigs of sage emerging from the Thanksgiving turkey’s various orifices. If so, do cherries hidden under colorful paper umbrellas really scream impending brain cell death, amnesia and vague memories of stumbling in a rumba chorus line?

In the culinary world, garnish not only hints at what’s inside, it’s to make the dish more appealing to the eye. Even if the dish turns out less-than-satisfying, your guest might at least sample it if it looks like an expert constructed the thing. Such is the elevator pitch or log line. A snippet of intrigue that hints at whats between the book’s covers and with a few short words makes you want to taste it. Consider the teaser for my novel, FADE TO BLACK. “In the world of illusions, there are many secrets. Ian Black has more than most.” You know that Ian is an illusionist, a profession known for its secrets, but he’s hiding something deeper, perhaps darker than what’s behind his curtain. A writer friend’s publisher liked hers so much that they kept it for her breakout novel, BURN OUT. “The last girl on earth – just got company.”

Intrigued? Let’s hope so, because as a writer you are selling your work to an agent, editor, publisher, book seller and/or ultimately, the book buyer with just a few short words.

Creating the perfect log line can be painful, like repeatedly cutting your hand with a pairing knife because God didn’t design radishes for intricate detail work. He designed them to eat. It’s impossible to sum up thousands and thousands of words into a single line or two. Stop trying. Choose one or two primary ingredients that make your dish stand out as something different from the others. Decorate it with a little fluff and appeal to make others want a taste, to find out more.

It’s been said that if you can’t come up with a log line then you don’t know what your story is about. It doesn’t matter how experienced you are, its one of the most painful tasks for a writer. Honestly, I’d rather cater a dinner party for a thousand guests and do the dishes in scaling water with my bare hands.

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