Sunday, April 5, 2009

Don't Set Your Stories in the Kitchen

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received came from a forum post written by an editor of a small magazine. She was discussing her slush pile and said that if she had to read another story that took place in a kitchen, she just might have to tear her hair out. "Do writers know how many stories begin in kitchens?" she asked, clearly annoyed. "And do those writers realize how boring that is?" (I truly wish I knew who said this because I 'd love to give her credit for the terrific insight; however, I don't even remember which forum it was.)

After reading that post, I went through all of my stories and - much to my chagrin - 90% of them took place in kitchens. Or living rooms. Or they began in a bedroom with the main character waking up (which, according to this same forum post, was even worse than beginning a story in a kitchen).

So what's wrong with writing about a kitchen. After all, interesting things can happen in a kitchen, can't they? Well, yes and no. Consider the following scenario:

Greg and Kate are having an arguement. They've been married for a year, but Greg thinks that the shine has already come off their relationship because Kate is so focused on her goal to have a baby that she's scheduled thier love making, thus taking all the fun and sponteniety out of their intimacy.

Okay, now take this scenario and put it into one of the following settings:

a) a 50th anniversary party for Greg's parents which is being held in an exclusive country club

b) a kitchen

Which of the settings makes the story more interesting?

If you are writing this argument in a kitchen in which the only two characters present are Greg and Kate, you are missing some opportunities to create tension. At the party, Greg and Kate are in a public place. Now their flaring tempers are put under even more pressure because they will probably want to remain civil to one another in order to not embarrass the family or themselves. Maybe one or both of them has been drinking too much. Maybe they have begun to argue in the cloakroom only to be interrupted by great aunt Myrtle or cousin Fred...

So you see, just by changing the setting, you are able to rachet the tension up and make the argument much more interesting.

I'm sad to say that, many times, I still opt for the safety of a kitchen or living room setting. I think this is because I am a lazy writer at heart. Kitchens are much easier to write about than restaurants. The kitchen is a very confined space; you don't have to think about the placement of the doors and tables or worry about describing the other customers or the waitstaff. It's much easier to write about a kitchen. But it is, as the editor rightly noted, it is also much more boring.


9 comments:

fairyhedgehog said...

Oh dear. I haven't started with anyone waking up, or ended anything as a dream, but kitchens... oh dear me, kitchens.

Thanks for the heads up.

Rebecca Nazar said...

Yay, this is the one misstep I haven't made as a newbie. Of course, I write fantasy, so kitchens wouldn't normally work anyway. Oh never mind.

Elle Scott said...

Yes, one of nice things about writing fantasy is that, usually, it is easier to get out of the kitchen. But then again, I write fantasy, and I still have a lot of kitchen stories...

Karen H. said...

I must say, I have written a kitchen scene or two. Good to know they are prolific. My editor also told me that if she sees a protagonist named "Kate" one more time, well, you get the idea. Apparently, there are more Kates' in movies than any other name, too

Off to write about a Kate in a kitchen...

Rebecca Nazar said...

LOL. My flash piece "New Moon" has a Kate:-)

Cindy said...

I have never heard that about kitchens before but I can certainly see the truth in it. I don't do kitchens a lot, but my characters always seem to be talking standing just outside a car. I can think of a few where there is a moment of tension and there they are, standing outside of someones car. Hmmm...

Elle Scott said...

This makes me wonder if there's a 'writer subconscious' that we all tap into - that there is something about kitchens, Kate and cars that gives us similar feelings.

Kate said...

Too many Kates? Drat!!

Jennifer Hudson Taylor said...

I can honestly say I've never started a story in the kitchen. I write mostly historicals, so only the servants/slaves would be in the kitchen. Good point!

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