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.
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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.