I haven’t baked bread for over fifteen years. But I thought about making a loaf of sourdough this week-end. I never had a bread machine, so the idea of spending the better part of a day making a couple of loaves of bread caused my rational brain to engage. What was I thinking?
Bread is not my favorite food group. However, if that bread is homemade and right-out-of-the-oven hot and steaming with aroma, give me butter and a knife and I will make serious inroads into that loaf.
How did my bread fantasy lead to today’s topic?
There are many steps to making even a simple loaf of bread, just as there are many steps to writing a novel.
1. Choose a recipe. Choose a genre.
2. Collect the best ingredients.
Build three-dimensional characters. Construct a believable plot with twists and surprises that will keep your reader turning pages. If you plot, then plot. If you’re a pantser, think about your story, build a movie in your head.
3. Measure carefully.
Be a wordsmith. Make every word pull its weight. Don’t overuse one type of construction or rhetorical device. Don’t tell then show. That’s called an echo, and it’s a sure way to make a reader throw your book across the room.
4. Mix thoroughly.
Space out backstory. Add only what is necessary to understand character motivation or a goal at that point in your story. “Dribble” in character and setting descriptions as appropriate. Don’t wax eloquent for a page about the cerulean tones of a fabric. If you must mention several glories about the color, give a couple from each character’s point of view, showing how they see the color.
5. Pour the bread onto a floured board and knead.
Write. Revise. Write. Revise. This is the muscle work. But this is what makes amazing bread—and a selling novel.
6. Put into a greased bowl, cover and let rise.
After a little time away from your finished book, go back and begin your editing passes for continuity and plot holes. Check for your personal “favorite” over-used words. Run computer checks for problematic words like “there”, “just”, “up”, “down.” Don’t overdo this, because there are lots of specific words you can check for. Look for the ones you overuse and fix them.
7. Punch down. Knead. Replace in greased bowl, cover and let rise again.
Give the manuscript to your trusted beta reader(s) or critique group. Allow them the time they need to give you a thorough, accurate assessment of your work.
8. Punch down, place in a greased pan. Bake.
Review the feedback from your critiques for your final edits. Consider making several passes, checking first to streamline for snappy, realistic dialogue. Check for emotion on every page. This is what makes your readers connect with your characters. And makes them tell friends about your book. Find the tension in every scene. If there is no tension, why turn the page?
If the idea of multiple passes to edit your completed book makes your eyes cross, take your time going through once, with a checklist of what you’re looking for. You probably have a good idea of what your strength as a writer is and what your weaknesses are. Look for those weakness and exploit the opportunity to fix them.
Remember, writing is like learning to play a musical instrument. It takes time in the chair to master the large then the subtle skills. Your second book will not have all the mistakes of your first. You will improve—and find more ways to improve your writing as you develop your craft.
9. Remove from pan. Enjoy.
Congratulations! You’ve finished a book and are ready to get on with the business of selling it. You’ve joined a very small percentage of people who have persevered to complete a book. You deserve to get that cube of butter and knife and dig in.
Which step causes you problems? What would you like to share or add to the “baking” process?
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Fae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes that she can live anywhere but the present. As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.
Punished, oh-no, that’s published as a co-author of a math textbook, she yearns to hear personal stories about finding love from those who read her books, rather than the horrors of calculus lessons gone wrong. She is grateful for good friends who remind her to do the practical things in life like grocery shop, show up at the airport for a flight and pay bills.
A “hard” scientist who avoided writing classes like the plague, she now shares her brain with characters who demand their stories be told. Amazing, gifted critique partners keep her on the straight and narrow. Feedback from readers keeps her fingers on the keyboard.