Start Your Week Off Write: 5 Ways Writing a Novel Is Like Bread Pudding – plus 2 Recipes!

Frans Snyders, (1579 - 1657) Cook with Food, public domain

I enjoy writing. Getting a germ of an idea and working through the ‘what-ifs’. Seeing a character form. Choosing the perfect word. Even the feel of the pen gliding across paper. I like that creative process. Not so much with cooking. When it comes to culinary arts, there’s not much art in what I create. Over the years I’ve slowly built a small repertoire of tasty meals, but in our early married days Keeper Hubby had to live with box macaroni and cheese and hot dogs on a regular basis. Another reason he’s a Keeper.

one of my latest midadventures trying to boil an egg

I’m sure Gordon Ramsay would let the expletives fly if he saw what I cooked on a regular basis. Fortunately Poet Son did not inherit his mother’s lack of kitchen panache. In fact, his name should be Poet-Chef Son. He makes gourmet-level food and his best dishes are always basic recipes he’s punched up with his own creative touches.

One of his best was bread pudding with a cream sauce. Makes your mouth water, yes?

Bread Pudding with Jameson's a la Poet-Chef Son

Writing a story is a lot like bread pudding.

1.    You need to start with the right recipe

Just like bread pudding needs a good basic recipe a story needs the basics – structure. Story structure is just like a construction project. You need a blueprint, some basic idea of what you want to end up with when you finish the writing. Want to get a handle on story structure? Larry Brooks is Top Chef for story structure. Check out his eleven part blog series on structure here.

2.    Surround with an enticing crust

A good crust makes you want to break it open and find out what heavenly tastes hide inside.  The golden crunch of a story is its concept or hook. James Scott Bell says in his classic Write Great Fiction: Plot and Structure “The hook is the big idea, the reason a reader browsing in the bookstore would look at your cover copy and go, “Wow!” Mr. Bell created the LOCK system and it’s one of the best to help writers improve their writing. I highly recommend his writing instruction books.

3.    Layers of yumminess

Once you break open the crust, you find the melty gooey layers of sugar and the stuff that anchors all that sugar, in this case bread, that you get to take apart bite by bite. The delicious layers the reader gets to take apart and savor in a great story are plot and character. The reader revels in discovering the adventure, the heroes and villains, and twists and turns the story takes. Make your reader want to know what will happen next. Donald Maass in Writing the Breakout Novel says about plot, “If there is one single principle that is central to making any story more powerful, it is simply this: Raise the stakes.”

4.   Spices

Don’t forget the spices. Bread pudding has several key spices to liven up your taste buds and make you forget its just bread and sugar. The spices in a story can include foreshadowing, subplots and good prose. If you want to strengthen your prose writing skills, Roz Morris over at Nail Your Novel has a great post on 4 Tips for Writing Great Prose.

5.   Secret Ingredient

Most bread puddings have a sauce for topping. It usually is sweet, creamy and might have a secret ingredient that’s been passed down in the family. It goes beyond the technical recipe with a pinch of this, a bit of that. Poet Son’s secret ingredient is Jameson’s Irish Whiskey. Faulkner and Hemingway would approve.

The secret sauce in a story is voice. The writer’s voice is uniquely his or hers and even if several writers use the same recipe, no two will come out the same. Voice is the secret ingredient, the variable, the meringue, the ethereal stuff that keeps readers coming back for more. They don’t know why this one ‘tastes’ better, it just does. Check out Jeff Goins post 10 Steps For Finding Your Writing Voice to help you mix up your own writing secret sauce. My advice for finding writing voice? Write, write, and write some more.

Now that your mouth is watering, Poet Son has given permission to share his bread pudding recipe. That’s good news for you, because you wouldn’t want one of my recipes. Enjoy.

Bread Pudding

ingredients:

2 cups whole milk plus 2 oz. whipping cream

1/4 cup butter

1/3 cup brown sugar

2 eggs

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 cups bread, torn into small pieces

1  ripe banana

Directions: In medium saucepan, over medium heat, heat milk and whipping cream, just until film forms over top. Combine butter and milk, stirring until butter is melted. Set aside until lukewarm. Combine sugar, eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer on medium for 1 minute. Slowly add milk mixture. Mash banana and add to mixture. Mix until well combined. Place bread in a lightly greased 1 1/2 quart casserole dish. Pour batter on top of bread. Bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes or until set. Serve warm.

Bread Pudding Secret Sauce

ingredients:

8 oz. whole milk

1 1/2 tablespoons butter

Jameson’s Irish whiskey to preference

2/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions: Mix everything together and bring to a boil for 3 -4 minutes, stirring constantly. Set aside for 5 minutes, then pour on bread pudding.

Question: What part of the story ‘recipe’ do you have the most challenges with as a writer?

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9 thoughts on “Start Your Week Off Write: 5 Ways Writing a Novel Is Like Bread Pudding – plus 2 Recipes!

  1. Joe Harwell

    Writing and food. I’m with U on this one. As for challenges with a story recipe, It’s all about when and how to jerk the rug out from under my readers by choosing the right moment(s) to turn a story upside down. I like adding something the reader doesn’t see coming which adds to the flavor and mystique of a story. Sometimes I don’t see it coming either. LOL

    Reply
    1. kristin nador Post author

      Those are some of my favorite parts of a story: when the ‘twist’ hits you and you didn’t see it coming. I think that’s getting harder for writers to accomplish because readers are more sophisticated and expect better and better twists.

      I agree, writing and food are a great combination. My sticky computer keys can attest to this. :)

      Reply
  2. sllynn

    *ahem* Maybe we need to have more meetings at your house when your son is there…. ;)

    I’m a terrible cook as well. I can follow a recipe, but if gets into something that requires multiple levels, burners, and odd ingredients, I’m done for. However, I do fancy the crockpot!

    Reply
    1. kristin nador Post author

      One of the few dinners that go well for me is Hungarian Goulash in the crockpot. I am a ‘by-the-book’ cook, any creative hanky panky and the victims, er, the diners may have some issues.

      Maybe I can talk Poet Son into making some bakery yummies before he goes back to college at after the first of the year. Then writing and food at a meeting it shall be! :)

      Reply
  3. ChipperMuse (Michele)

    Great way to look at storytelling. Plus, now I’m hungry for bread pudding! HAHAHA! Well, I’ll just have to try the recipe soon. As for writing, I think I work hardest (aka struggle most with) the plotting. But I find that as I write more, I’m getting slowly better at it. I suspect this is true of cooks and their recipes too.

    Reply
    1. kristin nador Post author

      I’m with you on that one. I find characters are easier for me, but what to do with them and sustaining a coherent plot is definitely the harder task.

      I can only hope your last statement is true. Maybe by the time I’m 80 I’ll have attained mediocre cook status. ;)

      Reply
  4. Pingback: Link Feast For Writers, vol. 16 | Reetta Raitanen's Blog

  5. SSpjut

    Kristin
    As always, I love your posts. But this one….Yum Yum. Appeals to both my love of cooking (it’s the process thats amazing) and my love of writing, all rolled into one. There has to be a new recipe in there somewhere…hmmmm Prose and Struddel? Struddled Prose’? Have you tried http://texanaskitchen.com/? She combines prose and food as well. Looking forward to your next post as always.

    Reply

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