Wednesday, September 7, 2011
A Novel is Like an Occasion Cake
Most states now have senior projects that are a required research project/class necessary for graduation. When my daughter was a senior, she was obsessed with baking cakes. Not just some box mix thrown together, but the kind you see on Food Network shows. Occasion cakes.
It took her a year's worth of research and practice to build her skills up to make her senior project cake. And she didn't do it alone. I helped her make the flowers, roll the fondant, and stack the cakes. It took an entire weekend and one full school day to assemble this cake. Writing a novel is a lot like making an occasion cake.
A novel can't be thrown together over night. Just like an occasion cake, a certain amount of planning has to take place. The cake artist (because baker just doesn't do justice) develops the cake from an idea. That idea is sketched out from many angles. The flavors, fillings, and color schemes are chosen. Garnish and decorations are planned to match. Like the cake, a story is born from an idea. That idea grows and through plotting, outlining, and structure, a sketch is made. Characters are created and developed, the perfect garnish, and through those efforts, a novel is created.
Occasion cakes, just like stories, take time. My daughter didn't wake up the morning before her project was due and throw together ingredients. She did her research, baked many cakes from many recipes and through trial, error, and practice, found the best cake recipe for the job. A novel isn't born overnight, either. Drafts have to be written and revised. Plots have to be tested and restructured. And after many months of writing and re-writing, a solid story emerges.
An occasion cake isn't a one-person job. The sheets of fondant were huge and it took two sets of hands to knead the fondant, roll it out, and place it on the cakes. I prepped the cake with icing, while my daughter secured the gum paste flowers. Like the cake, a novel can't become a finished product without a little help. Critique partners give that helping hand that a writer needs by offering support, an extra set of eyes, and valuable opinions. Plots and story-structure can be as wide as a sheet of fondant. It takes more than one person to smooth it out.
And when everything is said and done, like the occasion cake, the artist can sit back and enjoy her masterpiece. I have to say, though, that there is one difference between a novel and an occasion cake. When we finished my daughter's cake, I felt that it was just too pretty to eat and I didn't want anyone to cut it! With a novel, well, my hope is that the spine will be cracked and the pages, devoured.