How Writing A Book Is Like Making A Cake

At my writing group today we were talking about revising your manuscript and I piped in with a few things I’ve done when revising and one of the woman suggested I write it down for them to take a look at in more detail. So here goes!

I’ve mentioned before that for me, writing comes in layers. It’s way too overwhelming for me to think all at once of moving the plot the right direction, making the characters real, adding in stuff about the setting and the world, writing good dialogue, and on and on and on. There is soooo much that goes into a book and it gets really tough sometimes to keep track of it all. So for me – layers.

Let me explain by taking you through the process I’ve come up with for myself thus far. This is an ever-evolving process but it’s been oh-so-helpful to me.

Draft 1: Just write whatever comes to mind. Some like working with an outline, others don’t. I like a vague outline but I find myself straying from it often and that’s a-okay. Think of this like the first steps to making a cake – get out your flour, vanilla, eggs, milk, butter – whatever. Right now you’re just trying to get down a basic flavor. Want some chocolate? Add that on in. Extra creaminess? Add in some sour cream, mmmm. It may take some tweaking to get the batter to taste about right and when you’re done (aka finished a first draft) you’ll have a gloupy soupy mess in front of you. Hooray! Ready to send off to agents, right? Ha, nope! No one wants cake batter (actually I would love some cake batter right now but that’s where this analogy starts to fall apart so we’ll just pretend that didn’t happen).

Oooh, so pretty! And so delicious!
Oooh, so pretty! And so delicious!

Draft 2: Bake that cake! Draft 2, for me, is all about getting the plot and structure right. Pick the pan you want your cake baked into so it takes the right shape, or in writing terms, hammer out those plot details and smooth out what actually happens in your story. This has usually been a total rewrite for me, all from scratch. But by the time draft 2 is done I usually have a pretty set plot and I know exactly what’s happening and why. Still, it’s looking a little plain. I mean, if my plain cake were at the dessert table, it would be the one with the most leftovers because there’s just way more delicious desserts out there that everyone would rather spend their calories on, right? So you may have a good story but you’re not done yet.

Draft 3: All about the characters. Characters are the lifeboat of any story. Have lame characters and you’ll have a lame story. By now, my characters all have set roles in the story and they do just as I’ve told them to. And although I’ve tried to make them well-rounded, fleshed-out characters from the beginning, here is where I really try to make them shine. This one isn’t a total rewrite – it’s going chapter by chapter and really focusing in on characters, trimming and adding as necessary. I really zero in here on each characters’s motivations and making sure that comes through on the page, and their attributes and personality. What makes them tick. This is a fun part of the process because it starts making the whole thing more awesome. Think of it like how you added a few drops of raspberry extract to the batter to give it a raspberry flavor, but now that the cake is set you go in and add a raspberry preserve layer in there to make that raspberry foundation really sing and give the whole thing a delightful texture.

Oh man, I’m getting hungry. . .

Draft 4: Making it all look pretty. This is stuff like really get a beat on the pacing of it and making sure it’s right, adding in or refining any world building or setting details, and building on any established themes or symbols. One thing I did was read through each scene and assign it a few words of what kind of emotions I wanted to be evoking in that scene and then I’d go back through and tweak the words I’m using – similes, pacing, sentence and paragraph length, etc – to reflect that emotion I’m aiming for. I also like to go through relationships between characters and make sure those are compelling and engaging. This is all like the frosting on the cake – understanding of course that the frosting is completely essential to the cake, not just an added bonus (cuz really, who likes cake without frosting??).

Your cake! It’s looking so good! Now to turn it into a masterpiece . . . polishing!! Don’t worry though, we’ll save it for next time because this is getting long and now we all have to go make a cake to eat. Hmmm, what cake does China have the ingredients for???

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