Baking Cookies & Building Stories
Before I wrote my own cozy mystery, I read a lot of them. I am an enthusiastic fan of the genre. Some of my favorite cozy series feature heroines who are bakers or caterers. I do enjoy how these authors weave culinary tips and processes into their characters’ routines and storylines.
Since I am not a practiced cook or baker, I had to figure out how I would satisfy this classic feature in my series. For some baking tips, I consulted my sister, a genius in the kitchen, as she whipped up a batch of Bittersweet Chocolate Chip, Coconut, and Macadamia Nut cookies. Instead of content for my end pages, I realized her tips aligned with lessons I’ve learned in my writing journey.
1. Melt the butter before you add it to the batter to help keep the baked cookie chewy.
Clarify your characters’ identities and flesh out the settings before you start writing in earnest. Once
that pre-writing is blended into the plot it will ensure the resulting story has a luxurious depth for
greater reader engagement and satisfaction. In planning AppleJacked! I developed each character’s
backstory. Because I got to know them before I started writing, the dialogue sounds more natural and
was easier to write.
2. Chocolate chips are made to stay put while baking-candy bar chocolate is not. When adding pieces from a chocolate bar to your cookie recipe, pinch the dough around the candy so it doesn’t slide out and melt on the cookie pan.
|Pinch cookie dough around piece of candy bar to prevent its slipping during baking.
Like chocolate chips, your main character is a natural component of the story, secondary characters are not. When introducing supporting cast members be sure to give them a reason to be there. They must have a connection to the main character and the story. If properly anchored, their addition will give the story a richer flavor. The supporting cast in my story includes a former investigative journalist from New York, a twenty-something woman with high-functioning Asperger’s syndrome, an impulsive teenager, and a cranky octogenarian. Each of these characters had to be convincingly added into the plot and this took both purpose and thought.
3. Ovens heat unevenly, so rotate the pan half way through. If you have two trays of cookies, shift the layers AND rotate.
Vary the character actions, scenes, setting, to give your reader a balanced and engaging story. Otherwise, by focusing too long on one scene or a series of high intensity actions, you risk burning out your reader. I’ve read about the problem of lack of action in the dreaded middle. My initial attempts to avoid that resulted in an onslaught of drama and tension—too much heat or rising action without any downtime for the MC or the reader. Rereading, revision, and beta feedback helped me bring a proper ebb and flow to the middle.
4. Over baking will occur if you wait until the edges are brown. When the dough edge is barely
brown, and the center dough yields slightly to the touch, the cookies are ready. The underside will be
nutty brown, not dark.
Overwriting is just as bad as over baking—it ruins the outcome of a story that started with all the right components. This is something you must do wrong before you can get it right. Burn those cookies once to be able to savor the perfection of proper baking. Read your WIP aloud to let your ear catch those moments of overwriting. Then go back to cut and rework the lines until it is just right. Keep a copy of your first draft. Revisit it and I guarantee examples of overwriting will abound. You’ll also cringe, laugh out loud, and appreciate your progress as a writer.
Writing AppleJacked! my unpublished cozy mystery, has taught me these things and more. Even though my main character is a school principal, she does cook and a few of her recipes will be included in the end pages. But I’ll take a lesson from other mentor authors whose series’ feature MC in a variety of non-food related occupations. I plan to include information and links related to the locale of the story and topics addressed in the plot that will likely interest my readers. Given the constructive feedback from some of the agents I’ve queried I believe I’ve successfully applied the recipe of the cozy subgenre in the Moccasin Cove Mystery series.
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