G. P. Gottlieb has been baking in all kinds of ingredients for good characters in her Whipped and Sipped series. You can find out more about her on her website www.gpgottlieb.com, or by clicking here, read her last post here, or buy her books here.
I’ve either left out something important or written incorrect measurements in nearly every recipe I’ve ever created. I’ve also neglected important information or made huge mistakes in the first draft of every novel I’ve ever written (three so far).
Only my Live-In-Tester (aka Prof. Gottlieb) gets to taste my first attempt at a cake or read my first draft of a novel. As soon as I start fixing problems in baking or writing, I erase the originals because they always need severe tweaking. And I never want to see that draft or bite into that hard, tasteless cookie again.
While I’m experimenting, I keep notes about details: how much ground cinnamon or vanilla to include, how many cups of oat flour, what kind of sweetener, etc. I can easily follow my own directions because they’re based on well-known baking techniques. I learned them over the years or during the baking boot camps I attended at Chicago’s French Pastry School. But I can’t write “1 tsp vanilla,” in a recipe, and assume that everyone understands tsp=teaspoon. Or that vanilla means either a fresh bean, vanilla paste, or pure vanilla extract.
Writing and baking
Little things make an immense difference in baking, just like in writing. I think good character descriptions are like good baking directions and you use ingredients in the same way.
I think the best recipes are simple, with few ingredients. But most healthy, vegan, and gluten-free baking is complicated. It takes time and effort to replicate the binding of eggs, the creaminess of butter, and the sweetness of the two full cups of sugar that many cakes contain. I’m one of many who find beauty and comfort in a cake in which animal products and added sweeteners are replaced by unfiltered apple cider, flax meal, coconut milk, or fruit. The trick is to create cakes and other pastries that seem straightforward and clear but are nuanced and subtle enough to elicit moans of pleasure.
Writing and the ingredients for good characters
Flowing, easy-to-read writing is often similarly subtle and nuanced. Just like in a recipe, I’m going for well-thought-out images that are straightforward, clear, easy to digest. Describing a woman by her height or weight, the color and cut of her hair, or the shade of her eyes doesn’t tell the reader much. Better to show her sucking in her tummy when a cute guy approaches her at a party. Or giving him the come-hither smile that she often practiced in her mirror, and trying not to scowl when he introduces himself as a cop. It’s the difference between telling you to add 1 cup of flour without telling you what kind. It could be unbleached, spelt, almond, oat, or some other flour.
Cutting you a slice of one of my cakes is like a sleight-of-hand trick. You are enticed into a story before you can analyze why. Imagine sitting at my dining room table after a delightfully refreshing meal. You take a forkful of rich, moist cake covered in a ganache-like layer of icing. Then you look up in wonder and ask me how I made this cake so fudgy without eggs, butter, or cream. You also don’t believe that the entire cake has no more than one cup of added sugar, and demand to know how I did it.
Secret ingredients and the ending
I might tell you the secret ingredients, but you still won’t be able to replicate the cake unless you see all the steps. It’s like reading any mystery, mine included. You’ve got to read to the end to figure out how all the pieces fit together, and it won’t help if give you a hint. You’ve got to get through all the steps.
Charred: A Whipped and Sipped Mystery #3 includes twelve of my best recipes. It’s currently on sale from the publisher. Paperbacks are $12 and ebooks are $2.99 until the launch on February 21, 2023.