A Good Story is Like a Good Bowl of Chili

A Good Story is Like a Good Bowl of Chili

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What’s the best chili? It’s chili that tastes like chili but has something different to it. A twist that makes it your chili. Chili is one of those dishes that can be made many ways. You can change the meats, the cheeses, the vegetables, the beans, and the spices. Stories are similar.

The best stories are ones not quite like any you’ve read before.

How do writers come up with this unique mix? They make changes to one or more of the five main elements of a story: theme, setting, characters, conflict, and plot.

The Cheese – Theme

The theme is the central idea behind a story. It’s greater meaning. Some themes are revenge, redemption, and growth. You can also think of theme as the moral of the story.

Many chili recipes have no cheese. Many authors do not consider theme when they create their stories. As long as all the other elements are present, there will be a theme.

The Vegetables – Setting

Setting is the time and place. The time includes the time of year. The place includes the buildings and outdoor locations where the story happens.

Chili recipes always have tomatoes. Every story has the author’s own real life setting in them even when it is disguised as another city, country or planet. In an interview, Isaac Asimov said that even though his sci-fi stories were set in the future on other planets, the culture was New York. The culture you know is the tomatoes of your story.

The Meat – Characters

The personalities of the characters in your story affect how they will deal with conflict, or fail to deal with it.

Hamburger is the usual choice of chili meat, but you can use bacon, ham, or other meat if well chopped. More than one kind of meat makes the chili especially good. A good variety of personalities makes an interesting story and adds to the conflict.

The Spices – Conflict

The protagonist is in conflict with another person, a group, circumstances, nature, or themselves. There may also be minor conflicts and complications; more of these the longer the story. The minor conflicts may be different types than the main one.

Chili spices are usually hot spices. As your guests eat, they find hot spots. Hot temperature and hot spices. The conflicts in your story make it hot. Some conflicts are hot like temperature; characters who are always trouble. Other conflicts are like the spices; situations or interactions between characters that cause conflict.

The Beans – The Plot

The events and character actions related to the main conflict and any lesser conflicts that appear. Actions related to the main conflict begin on page one. As the story progresses, the plot brings in lesser conflicts to build the tension and increase the difficulties for the protagonist. Around the middle of the story, the climax is reached as the protagonist has gathered enough information to try to resolve the main conflict directly. During the falling action, most or all of the minor conflicts are solved. The resolution ends the main conflict and any lesser conflicts that still exist.

All chili has beans, usually kidney beans but you can pick a different kind or include several. The plot is like the beans because it’s present on every page or spoonful of chili.

You make a good bowl of chili by changing the ingredients.

You write a good story by changing the five elements.

When guests rave over the choice of meat for your chili, it becomes part of the next batch. When they love the spices and beans, you keep them in the recipe.

Authors who have a best seller will often continue their best selling streak by changing some of the elements and keeping the one or more they believe made that novel a best seller. We can all think of some great authors who use the same main characters for several books. Authors who re-use the same conflicts and plots also do well. The new novels are fresh because the other elements change.

I’m feeling hungry; hungry to get back to working on my novel.

Article by Ivan Izo.


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