By Steve Hooley
In recent weeks we’ve had two posts on editing by removing material from our manuscript that shouldn’t be there: Killing the Mosquitoes in Your Fiction and Surgery for the Manuscript. Today we’re going to discuss editing and writing with the focus on what to put into the manuscript to make it successful and unique. We’ve used analogies of entomology and surgery. Today we’ll use the analogy of cooking and baking.
That which should be removed from a manuscript is usually clear to editors and writing instructors with the expected disagreements. That which should be put into the manuscript is a whole other universe. You’ll get as many answers to that question as the number of writers you ask. And the number of books written on that subject is probably too large…huge.
Let’s turn to the analogy of cooking and baking, and let’s examine “that special sauce.”
According to Merriam-Webster, definition #2, special sauce is defined as “an element, quality, ability, or practice that makes something or someone successful or distinctive.”
Now, staying with the analogy of cooking and baking, we all have our favorite restaurants, and probably our favorite entrees and dishes: sandwiches, steaks, pastas, desserts, etc. Something about that food item is different and special. It makes a favorable impression on us, and brings us back again and again, asking for more. It may be a secret family recipe or an unexpected ingredient that the chef adds to the dish. Whatever it is, it’s something the chef does intentionally, and something that sets the dish apart and makes it successful.
My wife makes baked goods at Christmas to give to the people who have provided special services for our family during the preceding year: doctors, dentist, mechanic, accountant, etc. One of those items is a gourmet chocolate brownie. It is so well liked that she usually gets phone calls thanking her for the brownies and telling her how much their family enjoyed them and look forward to them. The unspoken message is, “We hope you don’t forget us next year.”
I asked her, “What is the special sauce? What makes those brownies so good?”
Her answer, “I use quality ingredients. I don’t cut corners. And I put in extra chocolate and add a little coconut.”
Ah, that special sauce.
Now, isn’t that the kind of response we want from the readers of our books?
We’ve all found writers whose stories engage us in such a way that we can’t put the book down, and we come back for more with each new book the author writes.
When agents are asked what they are looking for, their typical answer is “a fresh new voice.” We agree that “voice” is difficult to define, but what those agents are really looking for is something new, different, and appealing that engages readers and will sell lots of books.
I won’t try to define that indefinable recipe, that special sauce, for our writing and our books. This is the tricky point in this post where I have to break the news to you that I don’t have the recipe for that secret special sauce.
If you thought I was going to provide that secret today, I’m sorry to disappoint you. Like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, or the fountain of youth, that special sauce for your writing may take a lifetime of searching. But, if you’re looking, you’re looking in the right place. Finding “that special sauce” is the underlying theme and hidden subject of almost every post that is written here at TKZ.
So that I do not to disappoint you too greatly, causing you to fling this post across the room like a rage-inducing book, I will, however, list some books that have helped me on that (as yet unsuccessful) quest of looking for that special sauce.
James Scott Bell:
- Plot and Structure
- Write Your Novel from the Middle
- Revision and Self-Editing for Publication
- Writing Unforgettable Characters
- Voice – The Secret Power of Great Writing
- Writing the Breakout Novel
- The Emotional Craft of Fiction
- The Fire in Fiction
- Writing 21st Century Fiction
S. P. Sipal:
The list goes on.
Now, it’s time for your input. Please help us find the recipe.
- What writers have you found whose “special sauce” has addicted you? And what is that special sauce in their writing?
- What books have you found to be the most helpful in your quest to find and invent your own special sauce for your writing?
- Without giving away the secret or all the ingredients in your special sauce(s), can you tell us about one of them and the final effect you are trying to achieve for the reader?