Writing and Onion Peels

Analogies on writing.


A majority of writers, of any genre, continually tell interviewers that they consistently struggle with their craft. They are always looking for new ideas, new takes on old ones, and struggling to keep their message within the context of their audience. This problem is neither old nor new. Rather, it is a continual dilemma that affects the novice and professional, and in teaching college composition classes I have often used the analogy of a yellow onion to convey the writing process and purpose of a target audience. The onion represents the writing process because its layers and outer skin are symbolic to steps used to achieve clarity and consistency within an author’s text. These techniques and analogies are plausible for the new freelancer, as well as the advanced and professional writer, because everyone gets “stuck” or can not see past the surface of their subject matter. Accordingly, an onion analogy proves most poignant to the writer’s craft because its potency, pungent odor, sensual pull, and strong flavor conjure images and mental sensations that pull the mind and senses toward the central subject. Hence, the onion acts much like the words of a refined writer.

The outer layer of the onion, the yellowish/brownish skin, represents the general idea that a writer uses to develop his or her project. The research and facts formulating a thesis statement are the brown layers being pulled away to produce the sweet and fragrant white flesh of the onion. At conception random ideas and subject bases often appear half-hazard and malformed, but after careful thought and consideration their beauty and pertinence comes alive—like the brown onion skin. The brown covering makes an onion look inedible, but once pealed away the observer will see the white juicy flesh that is ready to be devoured. The thickness and intensity of each of the white layers represents the writing and revision process with the heart of the onion, the most intense in flavor and potency, as the final product. Using this analogy, in regards to the perils of writing, the framework for a coherent, constructive, and engaging piece are sharpened by relating the onion layers to grammar, word choice, and institutions of language.

Intuitions of language begin with the outermost skin of the onion. Here, the brownish color can often mislead onlookers to a poor product, but once the dead skin is pulled away a healthy creation emerges. Thus, writers should begin composing by putting their first instincts onto paper, and once they have begun their essay they need to focus on the intent and what lies beneath their outer cover—much like the onion. In the revision process, they should focus on clarifying their language and organizational structure instead of merely cleaning up their phrasing. Secondly, language misusage is a common problem of writers. Even the best and most prolific writers struggle with word choice—the constant battle of keeping your writer’s voice while keeping the message of your essay to your target audience is an art and craft that continually needs to be coddled. This coddling resembles the use of a yellow onion to make a white wine mushroom sauce. The seasoned cook would use a yellow onion over the softer and sweeter purple onion. The purple onion is frequently used on salads and garnishes, over being sautéed in more complex dishes. The purple onion would make this sauce pungent and shocking to the palate over savory and smooth. Accordingly, like the mushroom sauce, writing should be smooth and savory. Every sentence and word should entice the reader to continue—creating a continual flow to the piece providing the reader with understanding and intent (i.e. passion, desire, etc. over mistrust and distaste for the topic). Lastly, the grammatical aspects of a paper represent the thick, juicy part of the onion. In the mushroom sauce the onion is delicately diced into small pieces, to blend with the sliced mushrooms, garlic, and spices, to create a smooth and appetizing texture. Hence, a cook would not use chunks of onions or sliced onions.

These random food and spice choices then merge to form a delightful ensemble—much like sentences do. Essays deconstruct into paragraphs, paragraphs break down to sentences, and sentences dribble into ideas, but when they are properly merged together they form a cohesive and constructive thought process. Accordingly, the construction of sentences should resemble the construction of this sauce. Each sentence should flow, connect with the previous one, and grammatical markings should tell the reader key aspects of the sentence. Commas tell the reader when to pause, give the reader understanding to the subject of the sentence verses the supporting details, and the complexity of clauses tells the reader the importance of the issue or topic at hand. Furthermore, long and short sentences, mixed with complex and simple constructions, not only provide the author’s audience with variety, but they enhance the power of the piece—like the combination of spices and types of onions used to make a fine sauce. This fine sauce, or the final article, should then attract the author’s audience by combining language use and construction with grammar to appeal to the target audience—like finer palate of four star restaurants or the more every day appetite of McDonalds. 

Annessa Babic
Annessa Babic

Annessa Babic is a bit of a gypsy having lived from coast to coast and travelled around the globe. She's a freelance writer, photographer, and professor. She's written scores of pieces on topics from travel to the changes of life itself. 

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Writing and Onion Peels