Frosted with Originality: How a Good Story is Like a Good Cupcake

Nobody likes stale cupcakes.

My favorite time to eat baked goods is right out of the oven.  In fact, it takes a bit of willpower for me to keep myself from trying to frost it as soon as I pop them out of the oven (and sometimes I do anyway).  Nothing tastes quite the same as homemade and freshly baked.  There’s the anticipation – sneaking tastes of the batter, the sweet smell of the kitchen as they cook.  The thrill as the timer beeps.  The tease of the cupcakes cooling on the counter.  It all leads up to a big, delicious treat at the end.

1I think of this because this week, New York City joined the growing list of cities to install a Cupcake Vending Machine.  Already appearing in other cities – including Dallas, Atlanta, and Beverly Hills – these little machines are more or less an unattended store where you can pick up a cute boxed cupcake without the hassle of making it yourself.  In America, Convenience is our middle name: anything we can make easier or get more of for less money, we are all about it.  We are – and understand, I say this as a lifelong citizen and am equally guilty – a lazy, lazy culture.

For me, there will never be any joy in buying a vended cupcake, despite the promises of freshness and quality.  I want my cupcakes to have half-melted frosting because I couldn’t resist the temptation.

I feel the same way about my writing.

It’s far to simple to take the “easy” road.  We all learn in school that a good story has to follow a template or pattern.  The traditional fairytale is the best example of this:  girl meets boy, they fall in love, something terrible happens to girl, boy rescues girl, they kiss, happily ever after.  That doesn’t leave a lot of room for originality; or, at least, most people don’t seek originality.  The reasons why these templates exist is because they work.

Why bake cupcakes when you can get them from a vending machine?

My answer: because homemade cupcakes are delicious.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Both are messy projects.  Flour gets spilled all over the counter.  Post-it notes attack the walls.  You put in too much milk and now you have to start over.  Your character has no depth and you have to rewrite everything.  It’s not easy to do.  If it was, everyone would be doing it the long way.  But there is something to knowing that you slaved over something that makes the quality better.  Baking a homemade batch of cupcakes teaches you the importance of quantities, following instructions, patience – it makes you a better cook.  Writing a book carefully, with attention to detail and intricate plotlines makes it a better experience for you and the reader, and you become a stronger writer through the process.

But, what if I like processed cupcakes just fine?

A secret?  I do too.  And that fairytale template?  My favorite.

But can we honestly say that the quality is the same?  What would the Lord of the Rings series be like if Tolkien had followed a traditional Arthurian fantasy template?  What would To Kill A Mockingbird be without challenging the genre’s boundaries?

And, believe me, you’ve never truly known how delicious a cupcake can be until you’ve tried them homemade.

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