There was a moment on last week’s Top Chef that really resonated with me.
Cheftestant Kevin was in the bottom four for a dish that was influenced by his Puerto Rican in-laws. As the Top Chef hosts ripped his dish to the proverbial underseasoned threads, he protested that the dish reflects how his in-laws cook.
Judge Gail Simmons jabbed back, “Are they professional chefs?”
He sheepishly said no, and she reminded him that he is a professional chef and can’t just imitate how people cook, he needs to elevate the food.
This exchange reminded me of so many conversations I’ve had over the years with aspiring writers. Occasionally I’ll point out dialogue or events that aren’t working, and someone will protest, “But this is how people actually talk,” or “This actually happened.”
Writing isn’t about capturing real life as it actually happens. We have, well, real life for that.
Instead, writers have to elevate life and add spices and all the rest. Writers interpret real life, elevate it, reorder events, and serve up something perfectly balanced and ready for public consumption.
Serving up raw life on the page without cooking it is like putting a beet on a plate and saying dinner is served. It might be a good beet, but that ain’t a meal.