I enjoy writing. Getting a germ of an idea and working through the ‘what-ifs’. Seeing a character form. Choosing the perfect word. Even the feel of the pen gliding across paper. I like that creative process. Not so much with cooking. When it comes to culinary arts, there’s not much art in what I create. Over the years I’ve slowly built a small repertoire of tasty meals, but in our early married days Keeper Hubby had to live with box macaroni and cheese and hot dogs on a regular basis. Another reason he’s a Keeper.
I’m sure Gordon Ramsay would let the expletives fly if he saw what I cooked on a regular basis. Fortunately Poet Son did not inherit his mother’s lack of kitchen panache. In fact, his name should be Poet-Chef Son. He makes gourmet-level food and his best dishes are always basic recipes he’s punched up with his own creative touches.
One of his best was bread pudding with a cream sauce. Makes your mouth water, yes?
Writing a story is a lot like bread pudding.
1. You need to start with the right recipe
Just like bread pudding needs a good basic recipe a story needs the basics – structure. Story structure is just like a construction project. You need a blueprint, some basic idea of what you want to end up with when you finish the writing. Want to get a handle on story structure? Larry Brooks is Top Chef for story structure. Check out his eleven part blog series on structure here.
2. Surround with an enticing crust
A good crust makes you want to break it open and find out what heavenly tastes hide inside. The golden crunch of a story is its concept or hook. James Scott Bell says in his classic Write Great Fiction: Plot and Structure “The hook is the big idea, the reason a reader browsing in the bookstore would look at your cover copy and go, “Wow!” Mr. Bell created the LOCK system and it’s one of the best to help writers improve their writing. I highly recommend his writing instruction books.
3. Layers of yumminess
Once you break open the crust, you find the melty gooey layers of sugar and the stuff that anchors all that sugar, in this case bread, that you get to take apart bite by bite. The delicious layers the reader gets to take apart and savor in a great story are plot and character. The reader revels in discovering the adventure, the heroes and villains, and twists and turns the story takes. Make your reader want to know what will happen next. Donald Maass in Writing the Breakout Novel says about plot, “If there is one single principle that is central to making any story more powerful, it is simply this: Raise the stakes.”
Don’t forget the spices. Bread pudding has several key spices to liven up your taste buds and make you forget its just bread and sugar. The spices in a story can include foreshadowing, subplots and good prose. If you want to strengthen your prose writing skills, Roz Morris over at Nail Your Novel has a great post on 4 Tips for Writing Great Prose.
5. Secret Ingredient
Most bread puddings have a sauce for topping. It usually is sweet, creamy and might have a secret ingredient that’s been passed down in the family. It goes beyond the technical recipe with a pinch of this, a bit of that. Poet Son’s secret ingredient is Jameson’s Irish Whiskey. Faulkner and Hemingway would approve.
The secret sauce in a story is voice. The writer’s voice is uniquely his or hers and even if several writers use the same recipe, no two will come out the same. Voice is the secret ingredient, the variable, the meringue, the ethereal stuff that keeps readers coming back for more. They don’t know why this one ‘tastes’ better, it just does. Check out Jeff Goins post 10 Steps For Finding Your Writing Voice to help you mix up your own writing secret sauce. My advice for finding writing voice? Write, write, and write some more.
Now that your mouth is watering, Poet Son has given permission to share his bread pudding recipe. That’s good news for you, because you wouldn’t want one of my recipes. Enjoy.
2 cups whole milk plus 2 oz. whipping cream
1/4 cup butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups bread, torn into small pieces
1 ripe banana
Directions: In medium saucepan, over medium heat, heat milk and whipping cream, just until film forms over top. Combine butter and milk, stirring until butter is melted. Set aside until lukewarm. Combine sugar, eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer on medium for 1 minute. Slowly add milk mixture. Mash banana and add to mixture. Mix until well combined. Place bread in a lightly greased 1 1/2 quart casserole dish. Pour batter on top of bread. Bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes or until set. Serve warm.
Bread Pudding Secret Sauce
8 oz. whole milk
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
Jameson’s Irish whiskey to preference
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Directions: Mix everything together and bring to a boil for 3 -4 minutes, stirring constantly. Set aside for 5 minutes, then pour on bread pudding.
Question: What part of the story ‘recipe’ do you have the most challenges with as a writer?