Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Marble the Fat (Some Writing Advice)

We'll label this under non-fiction (if I labeled anything but my Stacey stories or my dating advice).

I thought up (what I think) is some pretty great writing advice yesterday.

You may or may not, but probably did, have a writing teacher who, at some time, gave you the advice to "cut the fat."  For those who didn't, it's a pretty common way to say that you have stuff in your story that doesn't fit, or isn't helping move the story along, so you need to cut it.

As a nerdy/snarky teenager I once told my teacher that I couldn't cut the fat because it was adding flavor.  We had a really good relationship, so she gave me a similarly snarky remark back and I ended up cutting it, but it was something that always stuck with me, because I had read some stories that had some fat that made me want to cut it (think Moby Dick, the chapters where whales are classified), but other times it just made the story more fun to read (no particular book comes to mind, but there's a reason for that).  But what made the difference?

I went on a mission for my church, where we were allotted very little money, and found 'fun' ways to still eat well.  One missionary and I decided we wanted steak, so we went to the grocery store and bought some that were... we'll came them reasonably priced.  It was pretty awful.  Both pieces had a very thick line of fat going down the middle of them, and the meat that was left was pretty tough.  It was a steak that was too bad to forget

On that same mission experience, this awesome guy took us to the nicest steak joint I've ever been to.  The steak was fatty, but when it came you couldn't tell that it was.  It was three inches tall, juicy, unbelievable, and write-home-about-good.  At the time, I had no idea there was fat in it.  It looked like a very lean, very tall piece of beef, but tasted better than any other steak I'd ever had.  It was too good to forget.

After I got home and got sucked into the Food Network, I found out that the steak was probably incredibly fatty, but that the fat was marbled.  I didn't know it was there, because I never actually found it in the steak, I just had it dripping down my chin.

And so, yesterday, while thinking about those experiences, I came up with a new saying, because my cocky little teenage self was partially right, fat is was gives flavor, but it shouldn't ever be found.  Instead, we as writers should learn to 'marble the fat.'  If someone can find it, we've done it wrong, but if they can't, but they can tell it's dripping with flavor, then we know we've put some fat in, but in just the right places, and with just the right amount.

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