While flailing about in an effort to fix a story recently, I found myself bewailing its virtues.
“The story is a cupcake!” I cried, while trying to add more spinach and wondering why the result was revolting. And as I sat there covered in non-functional story batter, I had an epiphany.
My story was a cupcake. My story. Was. A cupcake.
And instead of reveling in the cupcakery and plotting frosting and sprinkles and cackling to myself about how this was going to be the most sugar-fat-caloric-dense-ZOMG-amazeballs cupcake in the history of cupcakery, I was killing it with spinach.
Look, sometimes you put in all the right ingredients and the batter doesn’t rise or the center is too gooey or the edges are burned, but still, what you have is recognizably a cupcake. And if you keep coming back to the recipe and trying again with subtle differences, it is possible to end up with a very good final product as long as you commit to the essential nature of the cupcake and what makes a cupcake experience fabulous. And you do not have to be a master chef or even a connoisseur of pastry to know that what makes a cupcake fabulous is rarely the quantity and quality of spinach. Adding spinach doesn’t turn the cupcake into a salad or a souffle. It just turns it into a mediocre, if not disastrous, cupcake.
So I came back to my story and judged it by its virtues. And I committed to them. I committed to telling the story fully and completely with a willingness to go right over the top on a regular basis in my dedication to making my cupcake a cupcake worthy of the name. Because when you want a cupcake, you want a cupcake that doesn’t make any apologies or hold back or sit there saying, “Sugar is bad for you, really, and also you don’t know what’s good for you, so I’m going to lure you in with cupcake bait and then SURPRISE you’re eating your vegetables as I switch, ahahahaha!”
And that is the Cupcake Theory of Writing. If you find yourself writing a cupcake, write that cupcake with no apologies, no holding back, no trying to win the approval of spinach lovers who wouldn’t want your cupcake no matter what you did while ruining it for those who love cupcakes and want one already. Whatever the essential nature of the story is, go with what it IS and forget about what it isn’t.
Writing a mystery? Focus on whodunnit and red herrings and plot twists and gumshoe it up but good. Writing SF? Bring on the strange new worlds and civilizations and boldly go. Writing fantasy? Fantasize! Whatever you are writing, focus on that, the core of it, the experience of it, and think about what you love and what you hate in that type of story and OWN yours.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go own my story’s need for chocolate frosting and sprinkles and add more butter.