Pealing the onion without crying

I equate writing a novel to growing an onion. However, it’s actually more like growing the onion, pealing the layers down, then building them back together again and trying to present the onion as its pristine form, and hope the recipient doesn’t notice the difference.

It’s a necessary but daunting task. If you leave the onion untouched, you don’t know if it’s rotten in the middle or not. You can’t take that chance. So each layer is carefully removed, examined, and either discarded and replaced or left to be worked back into the onion later. Every bad layer must be replaced with a new one, or your onion will have a big hole in it. You can add layers but they must fit with the onion you’ve already grown, or it won’t peal correctly. Well meaning but ill fitting layers of onion can be used to grow new onions later.

I apologize profusely on beating my metaphor into a French-type soup, but hopefully, I made the point. A story is only as strong as its structure.

The way the plot moves along needs to reflect the needs and the goals of the characters experiencing the plot. Subplots need to stand on their own, but they must also support the main plot or they are unnecessary. Your plot must remain interesting and somewhat mysterious to the reader, yet it must make cohesive sense as a whole when the reader is done. The reader needs a reason to finish your story, but they also need a sense of satisfaction at the end, even if it’s some big cliffhanger to continue the story into the next installment.

In my metaphor the originally grown onion is the outline to your story. Don’t’ be afraid to reconstruct your outline. If it’s good to begin with, the basics will hold up to scrutiny. Your creative impulses created the original outline, but creativity is only a vague concept without the work required to make it something worthy of sharing with the world. It’s garnering the gumption to do the work that’s the challenge at least for me. And that’s where I’m at now.

Of course once I hand off my reconstructed onion to my editor (or editors, we’ll see), they’re just gonna peal it back down and make me reconstruct it all over again. I’m quite surprised when all is said and done that the final recipient doesn’t just end up with soup.

One Response to “Pealing the onion without crying”

  • Brenda Boe:

    Love the metaphor! Perfect description of the process. Now I’m hungry for that fancy deep-fried onion blossom thingie at the MN State Fair.