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Cooking a Book

Updated on December 1, 2012

So you are thinking of writing and don't know where to start:

So you want to write, a story, a book it matters not, far be it for me to try and dissuade you, in fact, the opposite. Once that decision is made the next question is, how to go about it. The obvious answer is to pick up your quill and parchment, pen and paper or these days, switch on your computer and open a word processing application. Though this is not the answer to the question really being asked. The question is, HOW do I go about it?

So I’ll simplify the process. Writing a story is like baking a cake. Short stories are buns, a novel is a cake, the mix is the same, simple. Just as you can choose what type of cake you want to bake, chocolate, fruit, ginger and so on, you choose what type of story, romance, crime or thriller. This isn’t to say that chocolate necessarily corresponds to romance, though both can sometimes be sweet and sticky.

Now we get onto ingredients.

Both a cake and a good story have a list of basic ingredients, flour, caster sugar, eggs, butter or margarine for a cake, a plot, hero, villain etc for a story. I hate trying to compare which is which, but eggs have a binding constituency and it is the plot that holds a story together, giving its very reason for being.

The plot is the driving force, the motive, whatever it is that prompts your hero into acting. It sets something that they need to achieve. More eggs make a cake richer, but often too rich if added without care. A complicated plot can cause similar problems, becoming too difficult for the reader to stomach. You should be able to describe your plot in a single sentence.

Your villain, anti hero, whatever, also has a driving force, something they wish to achieve, which is can be to prevent the hero achieving whatever it is they need to achieve, just as the hero’s task can be to prevent the hero achieving their ends, or they meet in competition to achieve the same end. Just as a basic sponge mix can lead to endless variations of completed cake, the seemingly unlimited variations plot can be reduced to a basic mix of plot variation.

The plot is the basic point of conflict in the story, so can also be likened to the basic flavor of cake you wish to bake and as with cakes, adding in a few additional flavours will add to the taste. These can be likened to sub-plots, which work according to the same principles as the main plot, but must remain subservient. Allowing a sub-plot to dominate can cause as much difficulty just as too much added flavouring can mask the required taste of the cake.

Another comparison is that stories benefit from additional elements. For example, a thriller gains flavour from the a romantic element just a romance gains from the addition of a little thrill. Once again these must be added carefully so as not to overwhelm the principle taste of the story, but enough to stop that single taste becoming bland and uninteresting.

Writing a story is like baking a cake, you choose your style and then add a list on ingredients, but as with a cake, the secret is in the mixing. This is where the skill comes in, careful mixing while adding a soupcon of this and a pinch of that. The ingredients should be thoroughly mixed and aerated so that when placed in the oven of editing, they can rise and take on an attractive glow. Of course you can add a few decorations, maybe some icing, but this is for eye appeal. Never forget your book also needs eye appeal, a cover to attract readers.

Writing a book is like baking a cake and despite all your best efforts, a cake can sag in the middle, or bake like a brick and this happens to books as well. Just as you shouldn’t give up trying to master a cake recipe, you shouldn’t give up trying to write. If you want to, do it. Sit yourself down and cook up a book.


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