Some sausage is made with –as Sir Terry Pratchett put it ‘named meat’. Um. I’d take that with a pinch of salt. And ketchup or the sauce-of-disguise of your choice. Like meat pies (especially the infamous floater (as in surrounded by pea-gravy) either eaten with gusto (another kind of sauce) at 2 AM… or approached with some caution, because even the names of the named bits can be… dodgy. The effects of the dodgier ones — as I can testify — can be catastrophic.
Which is why the fact that I always think of writing a novel and making sausage as remarkably alike should alarm you. I make sausages (mostly with ‘named meat’, I promise. Mostly.) The whole process is pretty gross – but at least mine are good eating. And here is the important part – they’re better eating than the various raw ingredients cooked separately. And they’re different (to the barely recognizable extent in some cases) from the original materials.
Almost sausage requires a casing. These days that’s quite likely to be an artificial product, but originally that was a piece of cleaned out intestine. (I’ve done this. Trust me on this one – the process is definitely TMI). Like most things it depends on what you do with it, and how well you clean it and salt it. The casing of a novel too.
Now when preparing to fill sausages… the whole process requires lot of prep. It’s no use sitting down with a piece of pork shoulder and a casing. The pork needs to minced (to the right consistency) and then mixed with the flavorings. And then chilled. Making sausages well equals cold hands. At its most basic sausage is meat… and salt, and approximately 20% fat, and iced water. You can add ‘rusk’ (basically dry bread crumbs) or substitute the water with wine, or stout, or port or sherry (or even stock, if you cut the salt), and add anything from garlic to pineapple, and herbs and spices from chili to sage.
But the sausage is always meat-salt-fat-liquid. And the proportions are just about always the same – at least if the sausage is nice to eat. Which translates well into writing. The meat is the action and plot, the salt the characters, and the fat… well fat, just as water is the stuff that makes it flow into that casing, and affects the cooking making what happens inside the casing actually steaming rather than frying or roasting (if you’ve used wine or port or brandy it may flavor the sausage as well, but that is not its primary purpose.) It’s the prose, grammar, sentence structure, Flesch index (the author’s stylistic voice is wine or port instead of water – it’s still mostly really water.)
Meat is meat – chicken to bear-meat – it all makes good sausage if the salt, fat and water are right. Likewise the meat of your story might be a romance plot or a fast-moving action thriller. That’s not what makes it a good book. It’s the figurative salt, fat, and water. You can add finest ‘spices’ and ‘herbs’ and unless you have the salt, fat and water right – it won’t work.
Fat is odd stuff. Without it sausages are dry and horrible (as the water steams out), and because fats take up flavors more effectively than most other things, it’s where much of the taste comes from. Too much, on the other hand, is just vile, to greasily inedible, if you go too far. To me ‘fat’ in a novel is ‘the stuff you think you could leave out that no-one would notice’ It’s the dialogue, the scenes in show small interactions, the introspection and the setting. I naturally tend to make my ‘sausage’ a bit too lean. Misty Lackey I always thought added too much. Working together was ‘fun’. But seriously, it is a balancing act, and unlike sausage (where if you go under 20% or over 30% you’re not doing it right) different readers tolerate or like quite a range of amounts. I still think lean is better…
Salt: the characters. And once again too much –or too little and the sausage is ruined.
Now whenever I mix up a batch of sausage, while the casings are soaking off their salt, and I’ve weighed and measured in my essentials, added the herbs and spices, mixed and frozen my hands… I always fry up a bit and taste it, and get other to taste. Sometimes I end up hastily adding a bit more salt – or on one occasion more meat and fat and water to dilute the chili. I ended up selling those to a Nuclear plant… seriously, it’s something I’d recommend any writer try with a new story.
And then after the interesting inverse of putting on a condom, putting the casing onto the nozzle, comes making sausage – putting all that mixture into the casing – and keeping the casing moving off the nozzle at just the right speed so it doesn’t burst or end so tight you can’t make links. And keeping the air out. Just like writing. Especially the part about the air.
Then the sausage needs to hang and cure…
And then grill or fry.
At which point you finally find out if it’s good sausage, or the wurst.