Friday, August 6, 2010

Storytelling and Strawberry Pie by Cindy Allen

In June Cindy Allen judged the Saturday Writers' members-only writing contest. When Cindy announced the winner, she used the analogy of making a strawberry pie to creating a winning story.

Cindy is a poet, a pistol-packing pilot, a polo player, and a pioneer. How's that for alliteration? I asked Cindy if she could write up what she said about judging, and she graciously responded with the following essay.

Storytelling and Strawberry Pie

by Cindy Allen

Writing crowd-pleaser stories is like baking blue-ribbon pies.

First, one must use the right ingredients: whipped-topping-titles, sweet- beginnings, elements-of-style-strawberries, and pie-crust- structure.

Second, one must use the correct amount of ingredients. The right ingredient in the wrong proportion creates a taste-disaster. Biting into a bakery product that has one cup of corn starch and three tablespoons of sugar (instead of the other way around) causes the pie to end up in the trash pile.

How many times have we heard the following? Title, Beginning, Style, and Structure Matters.

To further our comparison of storytelling and strawberry pie, let’s slice the story pie into four quarters: Title, Beginning, Style, and Structure.

I. The whipped-topping-title is bold, fresh, and powerfully delicious. It gives the reader a heads-up regarding the content of the story. It gets our attention. One way to create a tasty title is to riff on titles that have already been winners, for example War and Peace. Isn’t that more effective than War: What Is It Good For?

II. The sweet-beginning stands for a delicious first sentence and a provocative first paragraph. Using a well known beginning as a starting point can be helpful. In Little Women, Louisa May Alcott establishes the personalities of her main characters in the first four sentences:

“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug. “It’s so dreadful to be poor!” sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress. “I don’t think it’s fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things and other girls to have nothing at all,” added little Amy with an injured sniff. “We’ve got Father and Mother, and each other,” said Beth contentedly from her corner.

III. The elements-of-style-strawberry stands for all of the technical aspects of storytelling. Some components of style are: voice, grammar, and punctuation. One of the best books on style is Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, the time honored style-made-simple book.

IV. The pie-crust-structure is the foundation of the story pie. It gives the reader footing to move around on. In Heather Seller’s The Practice of Creative Writing, we learn that prose structure is made up of bits, beats, and scenes. Bits are images, beats are causes and effects, and scenes are made-up of beats.

Title, Beginning, Style, and Structure Matters. Crowd-pleaser storytelling is like award-winning strawberry pie. They both make life taste better.

Cindy Allen lives in Defiance, MO, with her husband and their horses and cats. She is a graduate student at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, where she is working on her MFA in Creative Writing. In a recent dream, Walt Whitman offered her a feathered quill. She hopes that portends a robust writing career.
Cindy is one of the most enthusiastic and friendly people I know, so I hope her dream comes true.
Speaking of dreams. Some folks dream of owning an expensive car. Here's a photo of Cindy standing in front of one. I believe she told me that at a recent polo match she hurried to get a shot of her standing in front of the car, which probably costs as much as my house.


  1. What a great post. Cindy did a fantastic job bringing together writing and pie baking.

  2. Hi Anonymous,
    You are right. She did a wonderful job!

  3. Swell post and excellent info from Cindy. The sentence about bits and beats was great to read...had not seen that explanation before.

  4. Since she did such a marvelous job comparing writing to baking a strawberry pie, I would be quite interested in her take on how writing is like piloting a plane, or how it is like a polo match (or polo player). Thanks for sharing...

  5. Terrific analogy! Cindy Allen's accomplishments make me feel like a slacker. I can't do anything as exciting as piloting, polo playing or pioneering. *sigh* She sounds like an interesting lady to know!

  6. Wonderful! Thank you for sharing:)
    Blessings for your weekend,

  7. Hi Claudia,
    Bits and beats are new to me, too, but it makes sense.

  8. Hi Sioux,
    That's a great idea!

  9. Hi Lisa,
    You are not a slacker! Cindy is interesting and very kind.

  10. Hi Karen,
    Thanks, and you are welcome. Hope you have a wonderful weekend, too.

  11. Thank you for sharing this with us - a fantastic analogy. Made me hungry though!

  12. I gotta run make a strawberry pie :)

  13. Hi Ellie and Karen,
    You both are welcome, and I agree about being hungry for strawberry pie.

  14. Thanks to everyone who posted a comment about Cindy's essay. Most of all thanks to Cindy for sharing her essay with us. Cindy e-mailed me her thanks, and an additional comment about the car in the photo with her. Here it is:

    Dear Donna,

    Thanks for saying those nice things about me. And you are right about the car. That Rolls Royce Bentley had a price tag on it of $245,000. Also, a Lamborghini and mazarati (spelling?) were there. I've always liked the bentley the best.

    It sure is fun being on your blog.


    Thank you,
    love, Cindy


Mysteries of the Ozarks, Volume V - Interviews with Lonnie Whitaker and Dr. Barri Bumgarner

Here is the second installment of interviews with contributors who have stories in Mysteries of the Ozarks, Volume V , from Ozark Writers, I...