by R.S. Mellette
When I was a kid, daytime talk shows were a different animal than they are today. There was this guy, maybe you’ve heard of him, Phil Donahue. He had a little show in Chicago where he went into the audience to have them ask questions. No one screamed or shouted. The guests were intelligent, and for the most part so were the questions. No one took lie detector tests, and the legitimacy of babies was never discussed. Generally, after watching his show one felt pretty good about the state of human evolution.
For some odd reason I remember seeing a Cajun chef on Donahue once. I don’t remember who he was, but I remember something he said.
“In Cajun cooking, we spice at every level.”
What he meant was, when making the chicken stock, or roux, or dry rub, or sauce, every step gets spiced.
I have taken it to mean that every step of any process needs some special attention. If you write from an outline, then make sure you don’t cut corners there. Spice it up. Make it jump off the page, so when you’re stuck in the manuscript, you can take a taste of the outline and remember what had you so excited in the first place.
If you find you have to add a minor character, give him or her some seasoning. Make us remember that tasty little tidbit. When your characters have to go somewhere, make it a more interesting place.
But remember, spice is, by definition, a small ingredient that has a big impact. Don’t confuse it with flowery. You’re not looking to overwhelm a story, just punch it up a little.
When reading through your work for the millionth time, play a game. Get into your kitchen, bring out your spices, and as you read think about which spice might help in the scene you’re reading. Maybe something unexpected—like some sugar in a salty scene. Maybe something hot. Maybe not. Mix it up.
Spice at every level.
R.S. Mellette is an experienced screenwriter, actor, director, and novelist. You can find him at the Dances With Films festival blog, and on Twitter, or read him in the Spring Fevers and The Fall: Tales of the Apocalypse anthologies.