Recently, I accidentally made a risotto. I didn’t set out to make a risotto. Now, my friend Becca, she makes risottos and tells me about it. This is how Becca makes a risotto. She gets all her carefully selected ingredients together. She mixes them in just the right proportions. She nurses her rice through the cooking stage until she has what she wants.
Here is how I make a risotto. I need to eat rice but I’m bored with plain rice. There’s a can of soup in the cupboard. So I heat up my can of soup while my rice is starting to boil and set it to the side once the soup is hot. Then, I finish cooking my rice, mix the soup in with the rice in another bowl. I taste it. The rice is chewy. I forgot to add the extra water. My soup is too thin to be gravy-ish. So, I dump the whole thing back into the pot, bring it back to a boil, lower the heat again and cook for a few more minutes.
And I have a risotto.
Life can be like making risotto. Sometimes, you have all the ingredients, you put them together carefully. There’s a five year plan and steps of a well chosen career. And you end up where you want to be. Sometimes life can be that neat. But other times, life is messy. You don’t know where you want to get to, you just know what you want your life to be like, so you add the things you want to your life and cook and maybe you end up where you wanted to be or maybe you end up someplace even better. (I wanted rice with gravy. I got a risotto.) Some might call this accidental version of life an adventure. (Sometimes, you don’t want adventure and end up with one anyways.)
Creativity is like this too. Sometimes, it’s well planned and thought out and methodical. If you put these certain things together, the outcome is guaranteed to be successful. (For the most part.) In writing, this is called writing to spec. Or, you could follow an old formula like the Hero’s Journey. Other times, it’s just dumping elements of what you want together and seeing what comes out of it. It’s risky. Sometimes things go better than planned. Sometimes it’s just a big fat mess and you have to start over.
In the same way that Becca and I have different approaches to making a risotto. We have different approaches to character building. We’ve been working on a project together in the last few weeks and this has become incredibly apparent. Thankfully, we’re both pretty understanding of each other.
Becca likes to make bio lists. The names, the nicknames, the favorite music and colors and loveys and all the names of pets and horses and likes and dislikes and so on and so forth.
Me, I stare at that list of criteria and feel incredibly overwhelmed. Is all of that important to story? Will it come up? Maybe, eventually. But I don’t have the character in my head from just a name fleshed out enough to be able to come up with if they don’t like Brussels Sprouts and their favorite color is green off the top of my head. Maybe if I’m basing them on another character I already have (because writers do this and don’t let them tell you they don’t) I can come up with enough to make them similar but different. But I’d rather sit down with a basic personality and write story about them and see how they develop.
We both end up with well rounded fleshed out characters, I just end up being a bit more slap dash about it than she is. And we both have fun in the process of making and using said characters. Even if we may have bitten off a little more than we can chew. (Oh the food metaphors today!)
Maybe you’re like Forest Gump and think life is like a box of chocolates. But today, for me, life and creativity is like a risotto. Hope you get all you good dream for and more. (Because nightmares are dreams too.)