I was making a cheesecake the other night instead of writing, as I frequently do when there’s a pot luck at the office the next day. In fact, I’ve become almost famous among my coworkers for bringing in these rich, delectable desserts.
I like cheesecake because it is a beautiful, decadent dessert with a sort of mysterious reputation for being difficult to make. They can be challenging. Making a perfect cheesecake might be difficult, but in truth, a delicious cheesecake is not that hard to make, just follow the recipe and trust your instincts.
As I worked on the cheesecake rather than my novel, the thought occurred to me, if only writing a novel could be like baking a cheesecake. Mix it up, put it in the pan, bake it. An hour later, done! Sadly, I can’t write a novel in an hour. I don’t know if I’d trust anyone who said that they could.
Then I thought, why not? Why can’t writing a novel be just like making a cheesecake? So, here it is, the recipe for writing a novel. Maybe not a perfect one, but a good one.
-cream cheese, softened: plot
-the extras (vanilla, caramel, nuts, and so on): your own voice
1. Start with your chosen genre and blend in all elements of your setting. Press the mixture into your pan. I recommend an adjustable pan, one that can stretch or contract to fit the needs of the story you’re trying to tell. A “one-size-fits-all” pan will only generate cookie-cutter fiction. Bake the crust for a predetermined period of time allowing your world to become real and solid. Remove from the oven, set aside and allow to cool.
2. Combine the plot with your theme until smooth. The cream cheese is the essential ingredient in a cheesecake. Without it, it isn’t really a cheesecake. For a novel, this is the plot. Essential and pervasive, you don’t really have a story without plot. The sugar is your theme. Apparently, every story has one. This will sweeten the story and soften the edges of the plot, and if mixed well, becomes undetectable.
3. Next, add your characters slowly, one at a time, beating only until blended. Beating the mixture for too long will remove too many hard edges and soften the inevitable friction between characters. Add as many characters as it takes to achieve the right consistency, but not so many as to turn it into a souffle. Don’t forget to throw in at least one bad egg—every story needs a villain.
4. Blend in any unique, personal elements, adding your own voice, or flavor to the overall story. Pour over the prepared setting. Bake until the edges begin to brown and the middle is just set.
5. Return it to the oven because the center isn’t done yet.
6. Maybe just a few more minutes will do it.
7. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Run a knife around the edges to loosen it from the pan. Allow to cool completely.
8. Refrigerate several hours, or overnight. (Translation, cool your heels while you wait for your manuscript to be accepted somewhere.)
It turns out, baking a cheesecake is a perfect analogy for writing a novel. But it’s not done yet. Now, you share it. The cheesecake is a dessert made for sharing and doing so, is much the same as sharing a novel. There is the same sort of fear, the giddy anticipation when you serve the cheesecake, or reveal the book. Is it really done? Will anyone like it?
In order to be complete, every novel needs to be read, just like every cheesecake needs to be eaten. And like a cheesecake being eaten, a book can be read much faster than it can be written. In the end, after all the hardship and toil, the consumer gets to enjoy your end product. And it takes mere moments in comparison to the time you put into your beautiful work.
Ultimately, a cheesecake will not be left untouched. I can almost guarantee that. Someone will cut into it. And the thrill that comes from watching people enjoy your efforts is unparalleled. As I’m sure, is the thrill of receiving a good review on your writing. A good book, like a cheesecake is made to be enjoyed.
If you’re curious, here’s the cheesecake I made the other night. It turned out great!