Do you have a cupboard full of ideas but don’t know where to begin? Or perhaps you have a half-baked book whose characters have leapt over the side of the bowl leaving the plot sunk in the middle? How to Bake Yourself a Book is here to help.
Before I start, I’d like to tell you about myself as a writer. I’ve been writing fiction for over twenty years. The majority of my work is fantasy, mainly novels with the occasional short story. My preferred point of view (POV) is deep third person with some first person past tense mixed in. I am more of a pantser than a planner but believe a certain amount of planning can stop a story spinning out of control.
Why How to Bake Yourself a Book?
It’s an analogy I came up with when speaking to a writer friend, discussing word limits, first drafts, and outlines. The issue: should she write a particular scene and risk going over a book’s word limit or cut it during the first draft stage to keep things tight? My response: keep it in because writing a first draft is like mixing the ingredients for a cake. Things may look a mess as you’re doing it, with sloppy mixture, spilt ingredients, and dishes everywhere. But you won’t know how it will turn out until it’s cooked, cooled, and assembled. Every piece of writing benefits from going through certain stages, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, a short story or a novel, poetry or prose.
Never baked (or written) before? Or perhaps you’ve tried but everything turned into a disaster? Please don’t let the analogy or past experience put you off. Every writer was a new writer once. And I suspect every one of us has questioned whether we have what it takes. But with guidance, support, and practice, you CAN turn out a fabulous creation others will want to share.
Choosing what to bake
When your mind is overflowing with ideas, it can be tough to decide whether to bake a quick batch of shortbread (a piece of flash or short story) or put all your time into crafting a three tiered cake (a multi-book series.) Here I’ll discuss the process I go through when choosing what to work on next. But what if the shelves are empty or the batteries for the mixer are drained? I’ll also share the things I do to find inspiration and refocus when I can’t see past the blinking cursor an the empty page.
Recipe and Ingredients List
This section will cover areas such as character development and scene building (putting together the ingredients list), and outlining and planning (creating the recipe to guide you through your first draft.) You might not complete your character development and planning before you start the first draft. Many writers (including myself) prefer to develop things as the story evolves, but for ease of reference, it is better to keep all your notes in one place. I will do the same for articles related to these areas.
Mixing the Ingredients
This section covers everything related to creating a first draft. It is where characters, settings, and events are mixed, tossed, beaten, or battered, to come out the other end resembling the writer’s equivalent of an uncooked cake.
Cooking and Assembly
Cooking is an essential stage in your story. It’s the point where you slip your first draft into the oven (or drawer or folder) and let time do its magic. The magic, in this instance, is the creation of mental distance; the ability to return to your work and view it with fresh eyes. Whether it’s a shorter work you set aside for a day, or a longer piece that needs weeks or months, the perspective gained in this step can be vital. It puts you in the right frame of mind to begin the assembly. Grab a red pen, or ready your tapping finger if you’re using an e-reader, and mark out sections that are slow and need lifting, are missing vital details, or are unneeded and ready to be carved or cut.
Carving and Shaping
With red pen scribbles or e-reader notes in hand, it’s time to begin the carving. The job of editing can seem overwhelming when you look at it as a single process. That’s why it’s better to split the editing into stages. Concentrate on the biggest changes first—those highlighted during the assembly stage. Cut, move, and carve your story into its rough shape. Can’t face deleting large chunks of your work? Then don’t. Grab yourself an off-cuts plate (a new document) and save them for reuse elsewhere. Once everything is in the right place, you can move to the next phase and tackle scene specific issues. Ask yourself: Does the scene achieve what you want it to? Do the characters’ emotions come across as you wish? Are their reactions consistent from scene to scene? With each question you ask, you’ll shape your cake a little more, until…
…it’s time to put on the fancy bits and give your work its final polish. Here you’ll sort out spelling, punctuation, and grammar (SPAG) issues, spice things up with well-placed similes, or add colour with enriched descriptions. Take care not to over tweak, though. Too many adjustments could transform your cake from a work of art to something garish.
And remember, whatever stage you‘re at, it never hurts to seek advice, whether it comes from friends and family, a local writing group, or an on-line community. When you can’t think of words to put on a blank page or can’t see the end beyond all the twists and turns, it can help to talk through your ideas, get a second opinion, or vent to someone who understands the frustrations and pitfalls of the writing craft.
Need advice on a specific topic but can’t find it here? Add a comment, and if it’s an area where I can give a worthwhile answer, I’ll do my best to cover it in a future post.
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