Ping! Pang! Pong! Poing! goes the writer’s popcorn.

What in grandma’s kitchen does popcorn have to do with the writer’s journey?

Sometimes it’s the simplest things in life that serve as basic models for the complexity we create for ourselves. Humans have an unending capacity to stretch the most straightforward of activities into a gnarly bureaucratic scavenger hunt that leaves us as slack and lifless as zombies. Bleeaaauuuhhh.

Don’t believe me? When was the last time you took a teen to the DMV to get anything done? And don’t be surprised that while standing in a line that looks like a pretzel made for Paul Bunyan; you guessed it. Someone takes a “popcorn” break. This, in light of the posting on the door that says no drinks or food allowed. But I digress …

Let’s talk popcorn.

When I smell popcorn, I’m conditioned to think of the movies. Being a creative, that of necessity leads me to imagine. I don’t know about you, but the movie going experience is just not the same without the popcorn. I know it’s psychological but it’s also the exclamation point on the experiential. I guess that’s why they can get away with a markup that is three umpteen thousand percent on something as simple as popcorn.

How about you? What triggers in your mind when you smell popcorn? Do share. Please.

Though a microwave never graced grandma’s kitchen, she knew how to pop popcorn. I loved the sound of popcorn kernels bursting into existence inside that pan on the stove. Grandma made popcorn old-school style. Pot, butter, salt, oil, kernels, heat (and heat usually meant a gas flame) and to be safe and sure; the lid.

Ping! Pang! Pong! Poing!

That’s the sound of story exploding into life, in the pot, but under the guiding hands of a good popper. There’s art to knowing when to lift the lid on your creation. Grandma had the knack for that, her timing was always spot on.

And story that works has a delicious savor that can draw a crowd. Think word of mouth.

Have you ever noticed how in a work environment when someone pops popcorn, the hallway suddenly becomes crowded and the noise volume increases? Bingo! Remember what I said above about the experiential? This is it. Shared experience. Community. Stories being told and savored.

Now back to the kitchen.

You gotta shake the pot, sometimes with all you got. At least that’s how my grandma did it, dancing in the kitchen. Her antics brought us all around and the fellowship was endearing.

So imagine this. Popcorn has a beginning. A kernel is, by its nature, the essence or gist of what is to come. A seed of promise. A core of expectation.

That is your story idea, a nugget of adventure waiting to explode into pages. And you can’t wait to share it, right?

Further imagine that each kernel represents a page.

Those kernels mill around in the oil at the bottom of the pot as the heat increases.

Think of your hook as the heat and your conflict as the oil. That oil can get rather hot. That’s okay, pour it on! And turn that hook by the way.  🙂

Need some seasoning for your popcorn? That’s your characters, setting, and voice. I would argue that how you dance when shaking the pot can be your voice as well. That’s because it’s a draw. It’s what brings the family and friends into grandma’s kitchen.

So let’s riff off that for a moment.

Shaking the pot. All the ingredients are inside, right? Invite your friends into the kitchen to shake the pot with you! This is your network. Shake hands, shake contacts, shake ideas, shake the tears, shake the fears, just shake and shake your booty for heaven’s sake. This can be your tribe too.

Speaking of shaking things up. Try poppin’ popcorn old-school next time. Yes, it does take more prep and work doesn’t it? That’s okay too. We all need the practice. We all need the discipline. We all need the shake dance.

A word of cooking caution. Don’t confuse your story with you. You are the cook. The popped popcorn is your story.

Oh yes, keep an eye on the stove, you don’t want things to be burnt and overdone. Editors, cold readers, critique partners, and agents can help you with this.

Now that you have ingredients, some flaming conflict, and some shaking going on; sit back and watch your story erupt.

Part of the delight with grandma was listening to the ricochet of popcorn off the sides of the pot, bouncing into each other and piling on until the collective creative genius lifts the lid and overflows into the real world outside the pot to be … to be what?

They’re going to eat this up!

Consumed? Oh yeah, death to the popcorn. Ha! But wait. What if we cover it with chocolate, parmesan cheese, white cheddar powder, powdered sugar, or caramel? We’ve extended the life then haven’t we? Could this be packaging and branding? Are we attracting more consumers to our stories? We’ve fed the hungry hearts in our kitchen. Mission accomplished. Or is it? What about this thing called platform? Ack!

What do you think is a good popcorn analogy that relates to platform? Go ahead, snap a synapse or two and share with me.

But wait again – you’re telling me your stomach is still growling?  And to make matters direr, you received a 1 star review on your popcorn? I mean, if it’s not burnt, how can anyone give it 1 star? It’s popcorn for crying out loud. It’s ubiquitous.  It’s a delightful treat for everyone. Oh dear, this is where simple models break down.

Okay, okay. No need to panic. Meet me here again in 72 hours and we’ll see if we can salvage this post.

I’m taking attendance. You best be here. The verb chef is in.


  1. david w. fry says:

    There’s something about doing things from scratch that give life to food. Maybe it’s the combination of the cooking and activity that swirls around it. It’s engaging! And i agree – It’s good.

    We made popcorn balls two Christmas’s ago and they hardly had a chance to cool before they were snatched up. This is the time of year to explore that again. I love Autumn.

    Glad I could stoke the appetite. 🙂

    Thank you for dropping by Carrie, I appreciate it.


  2. Hmmm. Popcorn…!

    Yeah, I know. Cheeky imitation of Bart Simpson, but it seemed appropriate!

    I now why I read your posts over lunch, David! No brainer, to be sure!

    I don’t have a popcorn related analogy for story planning or writing or for platform, so I’m looking forward to the next post.

    But I do remember making popcorn the old-fashioned way. For me, it was my mother. Boy! That was popcorn that was good, I’ll tell you what!