13 April 2010

Jello and The Art of Writing

Getting back to my roots a bit here, I thought I’d do a post concerning this blog’s namesake.

I’m quite fond of jello (whether it’s generic fruit gelatin or a Bill Cosby-endorsed brand name, doesn’t matter) as both a snack and a philosophy. That’s right, a philosophy. The philosophy of jello can be applied to writing, among other aspects of life.

Think of jello flavors as genres. Writers have a choice of genre to frame their story. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like much of a choice - even if I tried to write urban fantasy, it’d probably end up being women’s fiction or erotica, and even when I swear I’m going to try a new flavor, I end up falling back on an old favorite.

© Nikolay Okhitin/www.photoexpress.com
There are plenty of other bells and whistles for your jello, too. Fancy-shaped molds, a dash of alcohol, a handful of fruit, a dollop of whipped cream, a spritz of seltzer. All of these things are a writer’s tools of the trade. Dialogue, flashbacks and flashforwards, backstory, characterization, humor, sarcasm, hyperbole, story arc, plot structure…. A writer’s list is considerably longer than jello’s list, but the idea is the same.

You may be asking yourself if I’m saying anyone can write a great novel by selecting a genre and a few bells and whistles and fitting them together. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Think about it in terms of jello again.

Lime flavor. Sprite, pineapple, grapes added in. Not sounding too bad, right? Now take all those and make a cake. Or pudding. Or cookies. Not so great anymore, right?

Similarly, a person can’t just pick a few things and throw them together and be called a great writer: Romance genre. Love triangle, murder, family secrets. Oooooh, sounds intriguing, right? Sure, but that doesn’t mean Joe Schmoe off the street can turn it into a viable novel.

What makes jello so freaking great isn’t the shape, color, added goodies, or even the flavor. There’s just an innate awesomeness to jello that makes it irresistible no matter what you do to it. Think of your favorite book, or favorite author. I bet you’d never say “The realistic dialogue makes this book totally RAWK!” or “I’ve read all of his books because I just LOOOOOVE the way he uses flashbacks!” No, it’s something more, something even greater than the sum of all the little parts, something intrinsic and almost impossible to communicate.

Some may call it voice, or style, but I think it’s even more than that. I can’t tell you what it is, or whether I myself have it (I hope so!), or how to get it, or what to do with it. All I know is that it’s what I strive to create every time I write, and it is mine alone. You may not like my flavor of jello, but it’s still jello, and it is awesome.


  1. Very cool, Jen. I've often wondered why the Jello World, now I know. What a great metaphor--if that's the right word. Terry

  2. Nice! There's that certain sparkle about a great book that's hard to define - but easy to recognize! :)

  3. I love this metaphor. Very nice. I think I can relate in some ways, Jell-O rocks.

  4. Jello as life, jello as muse, jello as writing philosophy. I think I may just need to do a Two Kinds of People post about jello. "There are two kinds of people in the world: those who see jello as just an odd food and those who see jello as metaphor." Yes, it could definitely work.

    I like your blog very much and am glad I discovered it via SheWrites.

  5. I think that would be a fabulous blog post! :-) Glad you're enjoying Jello World.


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