Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Caramel is Sticky...Stories Should be Too

I just spent the day wrapping homemade caramels. I love them. I love them so much that if I were forced to choose between caramels or chocolate only forevermore...I'd pick homemade caramel.

I'd like to just sit here with a pan of it and a butter knife and watch the George C. Scott version of "A Christmas Carol" every night from now until Christmas. Mmmm. Probably heaven tastes like this. (The recipe for my caramels is in Delicious Conversation, which, as it happens, is NOT out of print. Shazam. Kinda suprising, eh?) (The ones pictured are on a yummy looking sisters-cooking blog. They look just like mine, but I think they actually have to stir theirs and use a candy thermometer, which would be waaaaaay too complex for me to achieve. Bless them for their supreme domesticity.)

Caramels should have a degree of stickiness to be truly delicious. If not, they're, what? Werther's Originals? Which are fine, but they're not caramels. Just think of the skiff of butter puddling at the edge of the pan, the way the caramel melts in your mouth, sticks slightly to your fingers as you lift another square of it to your lips, the way it makes upper and lower jaws cling and work a little harder to chew its brown-sugary deliciousness.

And like homemade caramel, a story's plot needs to be sticky. Unlike homemade caramel, though the stickier the better. If a plot lacks stickiness, it just won't hold attention. I guess stickiness is what I'm calling conflict. Again. This is the hobby horse I keep on a-ridin'. Get that story conflicted, folks!

The more often as a reader has to ask, "Oh my gosh. How's he going to get out of *that* situation?" the better. The worse the problem, the more the stickiness, the more compelling the story.

I guess what made me think of this was last week I finally picked up Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol. *Spoiler Alert.* It's been out for a while, but I'm making my way through the book stack beside my bed slowly. I about choked partway through when things got absolutely as sticky as possible for the main character, Robert Langdon. In fact, that know-it-all protagonist croaked. Yup. Up and died. It was the ultimate in "Oh my goshes." The very worst case scenario of "How's he going to get out of this-es." Seriously, how can he fix the dilemma of being dead?

Dan Brown took the conflict to the max there, and I salute him.

Now, if only I had been rooting for Robert Langdon a little more due to his being remotely empathetic...

I'm still slogging through the edit of my own little novel. It may not be epic like Brown's work, and it may not be taking itself all that seriously, but this week I rolled up on this passage where I totally missed an opportunity to make things sticky for my main character. I mean, dropped the ball of stickiness and let it roll away in the dust and get all unsticky.

Shame on me.

So, I went back and rewrote the chapter where my guy accidentally witnessed a murder. Then I had to throw in consequences for that, which added all new layers of stickiness, and possibly made me shake out three subplots that were going *nowhere* and even might have refocused the remainder of the book. Ha ha--I hope.

Still, the point is, when stickiness happens, it's good. It makes the character work at maximum capacity. It makes the reader worry. It helps the writer focus the story.

And it tastes good. Like caramel. Please, step back and let me get at that pan of gooey joy I haven't wrapped yet. They're mine. Happy, happy Christmastime.


  1. As usual, very good food for thought. I read these every time I notice a new post. They are fun, well-written, and, well, I just enjoy them!

  2. How did you know I've been craving caramel? I have in mind to make your super-duper easy recipe this afternoon and share with my visiting teachers when they come. Do we have to choose between chocolate and caramel? I want them both, but can't enjoy either without a cup or two of fresh pecans thrown in. Merry Christmas!

  3. Yes, Delicious Conversation IS still in print, and I just bought a copy for a friend who I think will enjoy it! I'm eagerly awaiting your next book. Go you!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.