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Ingredients for Good Characters with G. P. Gottlieb

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, 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).

Vegan brownies demonstrating ingredients for good characters

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.

Covers of the Whipped and Sipped series by G. P. Gottlieb

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.

GP Gottlieb

G.P. Gottlieb is the author of the Whipped and Sipped mystery series, as well as an interviewer on the New Books in Literature channel of the New Books Network podcasts. You can find out more about her on her website,, or follow her on Twitter, and Facebook.

This Post Has 22 Comments

  1. Sherrill Joseph
    Sherrill Joseph

    Galit– Thanks. I love your clever analogies between baking and writing, from using more nuanced character and ingredient descriptions to savoring the book or bite to its delicious end. Now, I want cake for breakfast!

    1. gpgottlieb

      Thanks, and try Almond Berry Breakfast Cake from my first novel, Battered: A Whipped and Sipped Mystery–

  2. Sherrill Joseph
    Sherrill Joseph

    Of course you have a recipe for breakfast cake! Thanks again.

  3. Laurie Buchanan
    Laurie Buchanan

    Galit — I love that you attended baking boot camps at Chicago’s French Pastry School. I love the way you write, so I can well imagine I’d love the taste of your cooking and baking as well!

  4. Gail P Gottlieb
    Gail P Gottlieb

    Thanks, that means a lot to me coming from a vegetarian author!

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      Avanti Centrae

      Loved the character description example!

  5. Tracey Phillips
    Tracey Phillips

    I’ve never been a fan of cake, but I’ve never tried yours! They sound so delicious! I look forward to reading your upcoming novel, Charred. And I look forward to trying out the recipes within.

    1. gpgottlieb

      Aw, thanks! I’m more of a PIE (and crisp) fan than a CAKE fan, to be truthful.

  6. Anne Louise Bannon
    Anne Louise Bannon

    Those recipes sound so fabulous! Trust me, the only thing better than the recipes and food descriptions in the books, are the stories.

  7. Avatar

    Such a fun post. I also enjoy cooking and baking, and I find many parallels between culinary tasks and writing. One that comes to mind is chopping!!!

    1. gpgottlieb

      Good point – hm, maybe a future title can be CHOPPED!

  8. Avatar
    Sharon Michalove

    I love the comparisons between baking and writing. I just can believe you don’t keep all your drafts. You are braver than I. And I can’t wait until you bake Bennet Longbourne’s Orange-Berry Cake for thé Great Jane Austen Cook Off.

    1. gpgottlieb

      Yum, that orange-berry cake is going to be on my mind – did they have access to oranges back in 1800s England?

  9. Sheila Lowe
    Sheila Lowe

    You always have the best-looking recipes. And you make a terrific analogy.

    1. gpgottlieb

      Thanks – that’s probably because I think about this stuff day and night!

  10. Christine DeSmet
    Christine DeSmet

    I loved your novel CHARRED because it brings in family secrets. This book was layered–yup, just like a cake. Congratulations on your publications and baking!

    1. gpgottlieb

      Thanks, and the idea of the book being layered like a cake is brilliant!

  11. joyribar

    Baking and writing play well off of each other as you cleverly put it in all your vivid examples in this post. My main character is a baker, too, and I liken solving a mystery to following a recipe. But I so enjoyed how you concocted this article, especially your reference to the magician’s tricks involved in presenting your cake. Nice, and now I’m going to order your first in the series and get reading.

  12. gpgottlieb

    Thanks, Joy – I already bought your first novel and just pulled it up on my kindle so I can read it and check out your recipes!

  13. Avatar
    Donna Rewolinski

    Great post. I’m not much of a cook or baker myself but love the analogy of layers and depth between characters and food

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