"…if you could tell me all that in a story, boss.” Zorba pleads. Stories resonate as they connect us to what we know with a fantasy of possibilities. Stories feed the imagination and inspire motivation. A story offers the reader a landscape of possibility. One can stay put and skim over the surface and move on, or one can meander through the ideas and images presented by the writer and weave the new into the familiar. There is a story in my soup.
The Ingredients and the Formula
The words and photos we choose to use are the ingredients that create each concoction we publish. The topic and title must entice entry; the first image and words move readers to stay. The offering must be irresistible.
Not necessarily novel, or earth shattering, or a masterpiece. Simply irresistible. Even familiar. Like a fragrant plump juicy apple just twisted and plucked off the branch of its tree.
The writer’s mantra, as I taught my students is “show me”; don’t “tell me”. Create imagery with your words that appeals to each of my senses: touch, taste, sight, sound and kinesthetics. Not easy, but possible when there to work with. There are recipes for good food and formulas for good writing.
One Must be Able to Write
When I started food blogging, I knew I could cook. Yet, there is so much more to it than cooking and baking. There is photography, social media, technology, and writing. One must be able to write if publishing a food blog.
A story captures the reader as the aroma of hot buttered popcorn pulls people into the Theatre from a frosty autumn evening. A story captures the reader like freshly brewed steamy coffee awakens me from swaddling in my toasty morning bed. A story captures the reader. The story lingers. It is what connects the reader to you and entwines your relationship compelling that reader to revisit. It is all about the story. And the relationship. Without story, there is no relationship.
(And readers, without comments, the relationship is only one sided.)
Charmian Christie’s offering is full of insight:
I feel a bit awkward talking about myself and my process, but since you asked, my favourite piece of my own work is The Kitchen God. It's not on my site, but a version of it is the introduction to my upcoming cookbook. It's a simple story about my mother teaching me how to bake when I was 5 years old. Up to that point my food writing was more an intellectual exercise, stuffed with forced but interesting descriptions. Although competent, the writing merely bounced off the surface of the subject, never breaching [it]. The Kitchen God was the first time I managed to capture the emotional aspects of food in a way that didn't seem forced.
What is the best food story you have ever read? Again. Think for a minute. What are your favorite sites to visit? Why? Charmian answers:
I adore the opening chapter of Nigel Slater's memoir Toast. It begins with his mother scraping the charred bits off hopelessly burned toast. I love this piece because it's so unexpected, yet something we can all relate to. He writes with honesty about how awful a cook his mother is, how much she hates cooking, and yet manages to portray such affection, tenderness and caring you wish she'd burn some toast for you. A lesser writer would have produced a sentimental, manipulative piece. The writer's mantra is "Show. Don't tell." and Slater's piece shows you everything you need to know — about Nigel, about his mother, about his family dynamics — without unnecessary exposition. He makes me want to be a better writer.
Dana McCauley’s most memorable food story was written by an author who had lost a loved one and found her way from grief by raising chickens.
It was a poignant story and one that I still think of often when I'm cracking eggs in my own kitchen. Like so many of the best food stories, it was more about the effects that food and cooking have on our quality of life and psyche than it was about the taste and culinary aspects of her eggs.
In each case, the reader has developed a relationship with the writer that has less to do about the food and more to do with our lives through that food. A moment in time that can be related to and a life where the reader fits and can identify to makes all the difference.
When Is a Story a Story?
A vignette, an episode, a happening brought to life through imagery is an important beginning, and like a taste, sometimes, enough.
Your reader will want more than a taste, most often. But, short shared meaningful moments in time when food writing work. Yet, when the writer delves within, exposing themselves to their readers alongside the food they present, their readers will return for a second helping. Tell that story in your soup.
There's a Story in My Soup was written by Valerie Lugonja of A Canadian Foodie. Valerie is an educator, writer, gardener and traveler who believes in buying and eating locally, and most importantly cooking at home! An avid real food advocate, she volunteers full time with various like-minded Canadian food organizations. Check out and join The Canadian Food Experience Project initiated in June. You can join Valerie on twitter, facebook and pinterest.
For more helpful posts and tips on improving your writing be sure to check out our Writing Resources section!