Last year I told myself I’d learn how to make a decent bread. I’ve made okay bread in the past. Usually by accident. Most of my bread-making efforts are colossal failures in flavor and texture. This happens from either over-working the doughs, or under-working…I never can quite seem to get it right.
Ultimately, last year got buried by rushed projects, and prepping for two manuscripts and by the time I got back to bread, the year was gone. Then I realized, those two manuscripts I’d been working on were not unlike the bread process. I hadn’t made a French loaf, or a sourdough round, but I’d basically gone through all the steps but with words and printer paper.
Write a novel or bake a classic loaf of bread as follows:
Recipe = theme
Yeast = characters (1 Tbsp. Yeast)
Flour = plot (5 Cups Flour)
Salt = conflict (pun intended) (2 1/2 Tsp. Salt)
Water = world ( 2 Cups Water)
A classic French loaf contains only four ingredients; flour, water, yeast, and salt. We’ll be writing a French Loaf Novel with just the basic classic ingredients.
I’m of the school of learning that all good stories are character based. However, we’re only using one small packet of yeast for nearly five cups of flour. That’s a lot of plot and a little character…have faith, it will make sense in a minute.
With 2 ½ teaspoons of salt you’d think a character will need a bit more conflict than that, but conflict/salt is really for flavor, and to retard the yeast/character from growing too fast. Character growth does define the story and character arc…have faith, it will taste great in the end. This will also ensure an even pacing in your story.
Plot and recipe in hand, we go to the work surface.
You can use a mixer/computer or do it all by hand/pen paper. Whichever your preferred method gather your main ingredients first.
Soak your character in the world until it comes alive. Then feed it plot and conflict. Some will say the conflict defines the plot—and I don’t disagree. It’s semantics, but I go with the feeling that conflict defines the perimeter of the plot. Tension and conflict are an absolute necessity-but it needs to have boundaries for the reader to be able to relate to challenges.
For example: conflict that escalates, and quadruples and overwhelms the growth capability of the character is no longer tension, it’s a cancerous blob overrunning your plot. Tension and conflict need to be proportionate to the circumstances and resilience of your character(s). This generates flavor, and gives the story body.
Your character/yeast is a living entity. It’s now alive in the world, digesting the plot. As the yeast breaks down your flour, it’s extracting proteins, sugars, and fuel. It off-gasses (farts out) air and lift the flour particles, and stretches the glutens in the mix.
You’re now kneading the dough, either by hand/pen or mixer/computer. Working the small scenes, the micro moments that create the larger picture. Your hands are dirty, sticky. You’re getting tired and possibly sore, and you might need a break. The more you work the dough, the more the glutens in the flour activate with the water and it binds all the ingredients together.
Punch it. Knead it. Push it. Pull it. Bang your face on it. Bleed all over the keyboard. Weep into your flour pile. Get smudges in your hair and on your clothes. Go through impostor syndrome, and hate ALL THE THINGS YOU’VE EVER BAKED. Then shove it away. Storm outside. Drink half a bottle of wine. Drunk text your ex. Sleep for two days. Wake up and eat twinkies for breakfast…then realize what you did wrong and rush back to the work surface, make a few rapid tweaks, and voila.
The rising/proofing process for bread is very much the same for writing a book. You must step away from it to let the magic happen. Do something else. Walk the dog. Take a shower. Go for a drive. Have dinner with friends. Rise time= flavor.
In real world bread time this means let it rise at 76 degrees for 90-120 minutes.
Whew. Take a break. Cover your dough in a bowl or under a dishcloth. Close your laptop. Walk away from the story for a moment. This separation of the effort allows the mind to percolate. The character is still actively digesting plot. It’s still growing in your mind, at the back of your thoughts, whether you’re consciously focused on it or not.
After you’ve tweaked it, from the first prove. You’ll shape the loaves and let it prove once more, covered. In novel writing time, the last proving process is where you might.
Sit down to make some final edits. Have a glass of whiskey. Read three chapters and realize you changed a character’s name halfway through a paragraph. Oh crap! Rush through “find all” function correcting character discrepancies-during which you also notice an over usage of the word “that”. Suddenly sober, irritated, “find all” function for a record number of overused words. Pour second whiskey, then third, no longer sober. Over used words and phrases stack up in final edit rounds until shame tastes like whiskey and self-loathing and disgust in craft failure tips scales to full blown COLD FEET. Must burn manuscript before anyone knows of such fraudulent failure and literary abuses. Fourth whiskey leads to picking up phone- luckily pass out before any calls or questionable texts can be sent.
Second rise time in bread world about 90 minutes.
Wake up from drunken impostor syndrome-driven blackout, realize the oven is preheated and ready to go. Hungover. Tired. Drained. Sore. Hungry. FUCK IT. Put that shit in the oven and get it over with. Email draft to editor. Greasy breakfast, followed by resignation letter sent to editor. Editor politely writes back that you’re not an employee and you cannot resign from her. She sends a bill anyway. Hangover fest greasy breakfast comes back up. Bathroom floor pep talk begins. Get up, girl. Take a shower. Get your shit together. It’s just a draft. If it doesn’t work…try again later. For now, wait to see what the editor says. Be strong.
This is bake. It’s setting all the ingredients to a firm presentable, tasty state. Writing world bake time can be six weeks. Bread world bake time is 20 to 25 minutes in a 425-degree humid oven.
When the bread comes out of the oven, let it cool. Let the aroma of your hard work and that fresh yeasty goodness fill your home. Enjoy warm, hot bread and cool butter and let the troubles of your day drift away.
In writing world time, this is when the edits come back. You’ll open the email from your editor and see the pages bleed red. At first, you’ll judge it. Maybe you’ll be too overwhelmed to read more than a few comments or pages. LET IT COOL.
Bread cuts more evenly when it’s not hot. Edits make more sense when they’re cool.
Come back when it’s still warm, but not hot. Edits begin to make sense. Logic fills in gaps. Synapses make connections. You realize: this is fixable. Can work with this. Few more tweaks to the recipe. Try again. Polish. Add some butter. Not so bad, actually. Could have been worse. Few more bites. This is good. It’s all good. Carbohydrates. Yum. Stack of edits to make better story. Excellent. Carbohydrate high allows for cheerful mood. Ex texts back. What the hell? Things were going so great with new edits and fresh bread. What drunk idiot invited him back around? Certainly could not have been you.
To hell with that guy. You’ve got bread, wine, and a draft to polish for the recipe book. Enjoy.
P.S. French Bread Recipe to Patreon Patrons for January 2019 reward tier.