Recipe for success

Originality is hard to come by, and here’s a recipe to prove it

From 1998, I think

Thanks Sue. Right, with me now in our studio kitchen is Austin. And he’s going to be cooking up something very tasty for us. What’s it to be this week, Austin?

Thanks Tim! Yes, this week we’ll be trying to cook up a story. Or rather, trying to find the perfect recipe for stories.

Any stories in particular, Austin?

Well, I’m glad you asked me that Tim, as this may well be the recipe for ALL stories. It sounds unlikely, I know, but this simple recipe, so easy to prepare, should be able to form the basis for any and every story ever imagined — true or otherwise.

I, for one, can’t wait for this. Quite remarkable. I hope you at home have a pen and paper ready. It should be quite a treat.

We’ll be working from a linear model here in the studio, but our viewers are more than welcome to try their arm at some of the non-linear approaches.

Yes indeed! Our website has further details of this exciting new variation. We hope you’ll all give it a try. It really is very simple. Please send in any stories you make up using our recipe to the usual address, originals only of course, and we’ll feature the best ones here on the show next week. I’m afraid we can’t return any of the disks or guarantee that we won’t steal your ideas and pretend they’re ours, but get them sent in straightaway for a chance to be on next week’s show.

Yes, it would be great to see what you could come up with, but back here in the studio we’re going to leave it linear.

Right, so how do we start, Austin?

Well, a good place to start, Tim, is usually at the beginning. Once you’re in your favourite text editor, you’ll need to open a New Document and have the appropriate toolbars, floating palettes and rulers all correctly set out upon your screen. Select whichever font style you feel most comfortable with. You don’t need to worry too much about formatting at this point in time.

OK, sounds good. Now what?

Now you’ll need to introduce a Location. This is like a setting upon which you can ground your narrative, so to speak. We’re talking geographical here, just a place, any place. Somewhere where all these events can happen. A concise sketch will suffice at this point, there will be opportunities for embellishment throughout the recipe.

What might our viewers choose as their Locations, Austin?

Well, typical examples of Locations might be your psychoanalyst’s waiting room, Tim, the one you keep saying smells of talcum powder. Or they could choose, say, a damp and musty garage in February. Or perhaps small town America during the Reagan years. These are all available in most supermarkets these days, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding them. I’m going to use, for the Location in our example here, a small, square, 12 page booklet, quite old.

Right, so that’s the Location. Remember, you only need to rough it in at this point. Just a couple of dashes. Don’t get too carried away. We’re just talking general outlines here, synopses, rough sketches, just to give us a feel for it. There’s plenty of time for the detail afterwards.

So now, within the Location we’ve just sketched out, we’ll need to add a Protagonist.

And by that, Austin, you just mean a central character? A hero, perhaps?

Yes, that’s the idea. And you could go for an entirely fictional character here, someone with all the heroic and impressively humane, caring qualities you may feel you yourself lack, Tim. Or perhaps someone you only met a few weeks ago. You remember the way she held her head, her relaxed manner that comes with having a full and varied history, don’t you?

Aah, I do indeed, old friend, but never mind that now.

Or perhaps a character based on a person you’ve known for a number of years. An old school friend, the boy who first demonstrated the true(r) meaning of the word ‘lesson’ and the phrase ‘the big sky’. I’m going to take, as the Protagonist in my example, the third and fourth letters in our alphabet.

Would that be uppercase, Austin?

Certainly would be, Tim!

Sounds great. So, next is?

Next we move our Protagonist around our chosen Location, like so, trying to instil a feeling of stability, a sense of Equilibrium. It is important we don’t get carried away at this point and overcook it.

Why’s that, Austin?

Well, simply, its because the Equilibrium must not be fully complete. It’s important we suggest there’s something missing, some little aspect of the Protagonist’s character perhaps. Don’t know, could be anything. But it’s no good painting a picture of complete bliss, as then there would be no journey, nothing to strive for, which is often at the heart of most narratives.

So are you saying that all that is needed here is the suggestion of an Equilibrium?

That’s right. And after this is done we may then steer our Reader’s attention to the Antagonist, the Obstacles and the Final Confrontation.

What’s an Antagonist?

Well, really, it’s anybody or anything that could be called an opponent or adversary.

Fashionable Antagonists currently seem to be the upper-middle classes, aliens, Russian typography from the turn of the century, misspent youth and the weather.

Yes, that’s right. In the past we’ve had all sorts, including at one time or another an entire family of apes, a man who wants to persuade you that you don’t exist and, my favourite, regrets over failed relationships.

I was always fond of the banality of routine. But what do you have for your Antagonist in our concoction here?

Well, I’ve gone for vinyl this time. I’m not quite sure what results to expect, pitting our chosen letters up against vinyl like that.

We’ll just have to wait and see.

That’s right. But first, we’ve to get across to the reader how the Equilibrium—

Near-equilibrium, Austin?

Near-equilibrium, yes, that’s right, thanks for correcting me there, Tim. How the Near- equilibrium enjoyed by the Protagonist is disturbed by the arrival of the Antagonist. We must manoeuvre the former to overcome the Obstacle set by the latter, such that they may finally confront one another.

Sounds complicated. Is it?

It can be as easy or as complicated as you care to make it, Tim. Events take place, things occur, till you get to the end, then you stop. All that we are doing here is outlining what is often the main section of the story.

The Obstacle?

Yes, but remember there’s often more than one. What’s important is that the nature of the Obstacles are relevant to the Protagonist and are sufficiently taxing, forcing us to think that perhaps, just maybe, the Protagonist might not make it.

Obstacles such as what? What kinds of things could be done here?

Well, you could go for, er, discovering you’re pregnant. There could be a strange hysteria spreading amongst the populace. Singing waiters perhaps, or an inability to appear serious. Anything really. I’ll be using a persistent lack of inspiration and misplaced feelings of nostalgia.

OK, so once the Obstacles are overcome, are we done? Is that the end?

Far from it, I’m afraid. Once we’ve passed the Obstacles we come to the Final Confrontation. This is what the whole story has been leading up to, and it’s on the strength of this that your story will be judged. You must aim to make it convincing, compelling and packed with surprises. It’s no good if we know too soon what’s about to happen. And always remember — build up the tension slowly, then release as quickly as you can, build slow, release quick.

Ah, right.

And another thing. The Final Confrontation must always favour the Antagonist, to ensure dramatic tension. The Protagonist must only be allowed to triumph once the lessons learnt in overcoming the Obstacles have been recognised and fully understood. Only then may the Antagonist be banished.

And that’s an important part of this, isn’t it?

Yes, absolutely. And finally, the Protagonist must acknowledge that that the wisdom or insight that proved indispensable in banishing the Antagonist was exactly that which was missing in the narrative’s initial Equilibrium. That Equilibrium is now complete and whole.

Ta da!

And once you’ve got your story to this stage, pop it in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes at 180°C, 350°F, or alternatively grill it under a medium to high heat for 12 minutes. Allow to cool, then garnish with a love interest, a high body count, a retro soundtrack and a cheap moral lesson at the end, something along the lines of, oh I don’t know, don’t kick snarly dogs.

And there you have it. One superb story, all the paragraphs in the right order, with all the trimmings. It really is as simple as that. But please, please, please. Run it through a spell checker. It doesn’t take two minutes. We hope you try this at home. And remember, the story we judge to be the most original and has the greatest potential for screenplay options and merchandise tie-ins will be featured on the show next week. Unattributed, of course. So thanks Austin for yet another exciting recipe, and isn’t it about time for that most endearing cookery cliché?

Ha ha! Yes, you’re right of course. So — here’s one I prepared earlier!

The Compact Disc Digital Audio System offers the best possible sound reproduction – on a small, convenient disc. Its remarkable performance is the result of a unique combination of digital storage and laser optics.

For best results, you should apply the same care in storing and handling the Compact Disc as you would with conventional records. No cleaning is necessary if the Compact Disc is always held by its edges and is replaced in its case directly after playing. If the Compact Disc becomes soiled by fingerprints, dust or dirt, it can be wiped (always in a straight line, from center to edge) with a clean and lint-free, soft, dry cloth. Never use a solvent or abrasive cleaner to clean the disc. If you follow these suggestions, the Compact Disc will provide a lifetime of listening enjoyment.

The music on this Compact Digital Disc was originally recorded on analogue equipment. We have attempted to preserve, as closely as possible, the sound of the original recording. Because of its high resolution, however, the Compact Disc can reveal limitations of the source tape.

Copyright © 1982

Fantastic! And now over to Sue for an update on the legalisation of split-infinitives story. Sue!

Author: Terry Madeley

I enjoy reading about art and design, culture, data, education, technology and the web. I'm confused by a lot of it, to be honest.

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