For his entire life my father-in-law taught high school French in the Parisian suburbs. Here in the States, we would say that he taught to diverse and challenging population. If he became a little cynical toward the end of his career, he never lost his passion for literature and moreover his desire to pass on the love of words and stories.
He told me that he had to use simple and concrete examples with his students so they would understand and not be intimidated when they had to write an essay or a fiction story.
“You know,” he said, surrounded by his books and dictionaries, “a story is like a meal. It has a beginning, middle, and ending. I always remind my students that in a meal we do remember mostly of the appetizer, which opens our appetite and of the dessert that leaves us content.” He smiled and went on. “So, it gets easier for them to focus on a good introduction and conclusion.”
True to his French breed, my father-in-law could only compare a story to a meal. Because of the simplicity of this tip I have used it with my own children when they were little. And for me, too.
And for the longest time, it was true that most stories and restaurants had a beginning, middle and ending. Et voila!
In the recent years however, some books and restaurants are feeding us differently told stories and cooked meals.
Last week, I had dinner at Sons and Daughters, a restaurant in San Francisco. I share the life of a man who loves cooking and eating unique meals, but also accepts that I like ambiance more than food. Writers love settings, right?
Sons and Daughters exemplifies the definition of exceptional food in a lovely décor. The eight small, exquisitely prepared and presented dishes, however don’t fit the definition of a traditional meal with an appetizer, entrée, and dessert. I’m not even talking of the little delicacies offered before and after the meal and of the three kinds of bread served through the meal. It was an unforgettable experience, but confusing for a writer.
The day after I read How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Moshin Hamid.
Talk of innovative writing. The book has no typical beginning, middle and ending – although we follow the life of a man from his childhood to his last days. The author writes in the second person and doesn’t give names to his characters and his setting. All no, no, when we take writing classes. And yet the author kept me engaged, impressed, and hungry for more.
Neither the chef at Sons and Daughters nor Moshin Hamid followed established rules. The only word I could utter after the meal and book was ah.
My father-in-law passed away a few years ago, and I have since thought of him on regular occasions when I read and eat.
I still believe that his simple writing advice works, but it has over the years become a recipe with a twist.
And that makes it more challenging and exciting for writers, isn’t it?
For cooks and chefs, too, by the way.