Why am I so addicted to Top Chef? Or, for that matter, any of the reality chef shows like Iron Chef or Chopped? After all, cooking shows have been around forever. This is one of those times where the reality show gets things right.
Think about it. Your typical cooking show, the old school type, has the chef demonstrating how to cook some dish. It relies wholly on technique. First this, then that, finally the other. Unless you have a compelling chef to guide you, the viewer might as well read a cookbook.
I thought about thus while watching an early show featuring Mario Batali. Only his passion for food held it together. Otherwise, I might have been watching a YouTube video.
Now reality shows like Top Chef add drama. Contestants compete for the best meal. Unlike most reality shows, where it’s all talk and little substance, at least with cooking shows, they actually make something. My point, it’s the drama that sucks you in. Various chefs are in direct conflict with each other.
This represents the true unity of opposites. This is a term that took me some time to understand. The opposite part is easy to see from any reality show. The producers often throw together abrasive personalities. They know, that when people with vastly different outlooks on life are tossed in the pot to work as a team, you boil up the conflict.
But what about unity. Unity is when you must deal with someone because you and and he have a common goal. In cooking shows, this is the team challenge. You can’t just walk away. And this is the core of conflict.
Consider real life for a moment. If someone gets under your skin, you have a choice. Either get in that person’s face, or walk away. But if this is a teammate, a relative, a wife or husband, walking away may it be an option. Neither is frontal assault. You’re stuck with this person. Thus, the unity of opposites is the core to any reality show, especially cooking shows like Top Chef.
Use this in your manuscript. It’s easy to create characters that despise each other, but you also need to unify them. Make them need each other in someway. Consider the classic scene from the first Indiana Jones movie. Indy has a chance to blow up the ark and end things, but he can’t. He and Belloq are both tied to the ark. They must see what’s inside. It’s this unity that creates the conflict that drives the movie.
The next time you craft a scene or plot a story, consider how you can set your characters up as if they’re contestants in Top Chef. Throw the worse characters on the same team and force them to work together. The sparks will fly. Plus, often it’s this underdog team that ends up kicking butt.