The Beginning: Filling the Fridge

Hearing other writers talk about the craft is supremely interesting to me, mostly because I feel like I’m so bad at it.

Okay, maybe not bad, but when talking about my writing process, I usually clam up. And when pressed, I end up using post-game interview type of description, except rather than a basketball player saying “It just bounced in,” about a game-winning shot, my genius assessment of my writing is typically, “I just wrote it.”

So, when I hear things like the fantastic analogy Hank Phillippi Ryan shared during a speech at the Kansas City Public Library, I white-knuckle it until it becomes mine to share, too.

Hank, while giving a really excellent speech on her writing career, process and the industry in general, mentioned a bit of explanation for mystery and thriller writing that she gleaned from Lee Child, he of the Jack Reacher empire.

And it happened to be about beginnings, as how they relate to endings.

Basically, the analogy was this: Whether you are a pantser or a plotter, the first half of the novel is akin to filling the fridge with all sorts of ingredients. Then, for the second half of the novel, you make dinner.

You take all those ingredients—the red herrings, the coincidences, the unexplained bits, the evidence—and bring them together until they have combined into such a delicious concoction, it is a full and satisfying experience.

As a longtime food writer, I absolutely love this analogy.

I love going to the farmers’ market and our co-op, buying the prettiest and freshest ingredients, and working to make the best meal I can out of the sum of what I’ve purchased.

But what I love even more is looking at everything I’ve set up for myself during the first half of any of my manuscripts—the relationships, seeming non sequiturs, clues (big and small)—and piecing them together until every little ingredient has been used.

What’s your favorite ingredient to add to your fridge at the beginning of a project?


9 thoughts on “The Beginning: Filling the Fridge”

  1. My favorite ingredient is the one I didn’t realize was in the fridge. It’s when that seemingly insignificant detail I added for no apparent reason suddenly becomes the linchpin that helps develop the final twist. I’ve had a character’s name that I’d randomly assigned in a previous book suddenly be the clue Letty needs in order to follow the trail back to the killer. Weird, weird circumstances that can only be explained by luck or magic. I’ll be honest, though. It feels like magic. It feels like something in the book was planning things way before I ever could conceive of them and I’m just following the bread trail left behind. (insert Twilight Zone music here.)


  2. I’m not sure I can answer the question, but I love the analogy! Maybe this is why the first draft of my current WIP felt a little “bland.” It’s the recipe from the book. Now, in revision, I need to add some signature ingredients to make it my own.


  3. I do think it feels like magic when it works out like that, Donna! Like you had no idea why you bought that thumb of ginger but it was *just* what you needed in the end. That has happened to me several times. And it makes everything work out beautifully.


  4. Hmmm. Whatever I’ve got a craving for at the time, I guess. My stories vary greatly AND I tend to think I want one thing, but end up whipping up something else entirely. It’s like some of the ingredients I so carefully purchased spoiled and I end up adding stuff that’s been sitting in my fridge to the mix as replacements.


  5. Love this! I’m going to apply it to my own projects. My favorite ingredient is abandon. I like to write the first draft with no barriers–let the story head into twists and turns and see where things come together.


  6. Oh, just saw this! And what a treat to read it..thank you Sarah! It’s wonderful that we all work similarly..but not exactly alike. Love that. And Donna, yes–when I have a “so STHAT”S why that’s there!” moment–it’s terrific. NOw–gotta start filling my fridge…


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