My husband and I are big fans of The Great British Baking Show—one of the biggest payoffs is seeing the expressions of bliss on the judges’ faces when a baker nails a particularly difficult bake (as Mary Berry might say, the bake was “scrummy”). As writers, we’re looking for this same reaction in readers—we want our stories to be delicious.
There are lots of different elements that go into this, of course, but as I’m knee-deep in revisions at the moment, I’ve been thinking about how this magic happens in revision. Some of it, of course, is making sure that each scene serves the overall purpose of the story (characterization, plot, setting, etc.). But a serviceable cake is just that—serviceable. It’s not necessarily delicious.
I think one key to a delicious book is building in what Susan Dennard calls “cookies”: “those sparks in a story that makes you WANT to write. It’s the romantic tension you love and just can’t wait to reach. It’s the high-action fight you’re itching to write or the awesome sneakiness of your villain. It is basically the reason you wanted to write THIS book at THIS moment.” For Dennard, these are moments that you plan in as you’re plotting your story, as a motivation to keep writing and as a guide to awesome stories. Dennard argues that every scene needs to be a cookie scene, and I think she’s right.
But the idea of cookies—something delightful in each scene—isn’t just helpful as you’re drafting, but as you revise. There’s a story that P.G. Wodehouse, comic writer extraordinaire, used to post pages of his novel around the room as he revised, and then he’d mark up each page to make sure that each page had something funny. And while not all of us are comic writers, I think we can all borrow something from this idea.
We need to find the thing that makes our stories delicious to our readers (often it’s the same thing that makes the story sparkle for us)—and then make sure each scene (better yet, each page) has something rewarding for readers. Maybe it’s a particularly sharp bit of dialogue. Maybe it’s a romantic moment, or a humorous one. Maybe it’s a setting that inspires wonder.
Not all of these moments have to be huge ones—not every scene can be that intense, almost-kiss that leaves readers swooning (not unless you want to gradually rob that scene of its impact)—but they do have to be there. Scenes that bore you as a writer are generally scenes that are going to bore your reader.
As I’m revising, I find that this focus—looking for the bits I find delightful and pruning the rest—is helping me to see more clearly which scenes are critical to the story, and which are just structure, a method to get from point A to point B.
Here’s hoping that the final “bake” is as delicious as I envision!
What are some of your favorite revision tricks?
Rosalyn Eves is a part-time writer, part-time English professor, and full-time mother of three. She loves all things BBC, especially costume dramas and mysteries. When not wrangling children (and sometimes when she should be wrangling children), she’s often found reading. Her debut novel, BLOOD ROSE REBELLION, is now available.