Chicken-Free Chicken

My in-laws favor a vegetarian diet that includes a variety of foods that I had never tried (many I’d never even heard of) before meeting my Husband. Things like tofu, carob, hazelnut milk, tofurkey, nayonaise, veganaise and miso.

One time early on in our marriage, I picked up a food order for them and it included some Chicken-Free Chicken. This wannabe meat had been molded into the rough shape and size of a rubber chicken, headless of course, and vacuum wrapped in plastic. I’m not even sure if it needed refrigeration.

Human beings are so fascinating. We get so used to certain things being “normal” that even when we decide not to do them (health, religion, safety or lifestyle) we often can’t resist still pretending that we still do, or find a similar “replacement”.

But the thing I couldn’t get over was the name. If you have chicken, but you take out all the chicken, what do you have left? In real life, some might list things like preservatives, hormones, vaccines etc., but I highly doubt that’s what this package meant.

Why should I care about what it wasn’t? I wanted to know what in the world they did put into that package. I don’t know about other people, but I found the marketing hilarious. I teased my Husband over it and it lives on as a sort of catchphrase between him and I.

Whenever someone seems more intent on telling me what something is not than what it is, I reflect on the wannabe rubber chicken and laugh.

However, when I’m the one doing it, it’s just not nearly as funny. Especially when I do it over and over. Or when it’s others pointing it out to me.

I’m part of a critique group that is both wonderful and wonderfully picky. One member constantly highlights lines like, “She didn’t say anything.” Or “He ignored her” etc. Then the comments read, “Don’t tell me what they didn’t do – tell me what they did!”

I can’t say how strenuous this guideline is out in the professional arena, but this member would know better than I and I admit that it make sense. And yet I’m so guilty of it – so very guilty.

Lately while going through sections to prepare to send to the group, I’ve noticed that when I read lines like that in my writing, just the thought that she’ll find it makes me cringe. So I delete them…(see, told you the group is wonderful!)

It goes deeper, though. One struggle I’ve had with marketing my writing is quantifying it. My Husband steps up to help and asks things like “what’s your UPS(unique selling point)?” or “What does your target audience want?”

At first, I would freeze up. Then I spent plenty of time talking all about how my books are clean and, dare I claim well-written? Well, at least my craft shouldn’t keep a reader from enjoying the story, right?

My Husband wasn’t buying it.

Someone smarter than me told me “What you focus on expands” and it is so true. So what good is it to focus on what I do not write? With today’s saturated market I think it’s all the more important to know why people are looking for – not what they want to avoid. And yet, perhaps because of the saturation, I find it harder to presume to claim a particular uniqueness.

I confess I’m still learning, but there are resources and good advice out there, such as Author Media’s recent article about the Purple Cow. It faces up to the idea that if you target the masses and play it safe, you’ll be lost.

They give a nice list of practical (or at least feasible) methods to stand out in a crowd.

So, how do you plan to be a Purple Cow instead of a Chicken-Free Chicken?



About Ren Black

Part-time novelist. Weekend artist. Full-time Mother. Ex-poet. Perfectionist by training. Compulsive researcher sporadically. Prone to fits of linguistic commentary Unorthodox Renegade occasionally. Sarcastic by habit... Dreamer Always... Consider Yourself Warned

4 comments on “Chicken-Free Chicken

  1. I just gave a friend a few pages of my rewritten story, mainly to see what he thought about my POV improvement. One of the things he sent back was, don’t tell me what she can’t see, tell me what she can see and by doing this, it makes the inability to see what she wants to see more drastic. (when looking for a starfighter that just shot up high in the sky and was possibly preparing another dive) So I definitely know what you mean there.

    • Great example. Thanks for sharing it Nathanael! Sounds tense as seconds tick by and the life is definitely on the line… Good luck with it.

  2. I laughed at the chicken-free chicken too. I also am annoyed when stories tell me what didn’t happen or what the character didn’t see/notice, especially at the end. POV error. I guess I’m trying to be a Purple Cow by writing Hebrew burial mounds into a zombie mythos. It’s so purple I can’t find any research besides that my friend heard about Hebrew burial mounds in North America on some radio show past midnight–you know the kind.

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