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What Decorating Cookies Can Teach Writers About Story Detail

I adore the holiday season. I love the twinkle of lights, stockings hung by the fireplace, the nip in the air (even in Birmingham, Alabama), and the scent of delicious treats, fresh from the oven, wafting through the house.

In our house, the holiday season means baking cookies. Lots of cookies. Batches of sugar cookies. Snickerdoodles. Gingerbread cutouts. We whip up loads of royal icing and gather bottles of sprinkles and colored sugar. It’s a relaxing, fun, and messy way to spend an afternoon; very reminiscent of my own childhood (thanks, Mom!).

While decorating today, I thought about my work-in-progress; how every page of my new novel (and every novel) must contain a delicate balance of character, dialogue, setting, and plot. Just like holiday cookie decorating, too much or too little detail can spoil the effect and experience.

Here are three things that help keep me in check while decorating cookies and crafting my own novels:

  1. Color & Characters — I like to use royal icing for our cookies (powdered sugar and egg whites), as it’s easy to make and gives the treats a beautiful sheen. As I’m mixing, I decide on a limited palette of colors that work well together. This year, I chose 3–5 complementary primary colors. The main cast of your story should reflect the same: a tight group of different personalities, with different goals, needs, and skills. Too many  characters, all introduced in one chapter, can leave readers frustrated and confused. Sprinkle in secondary characters as needed, but don’t overdo it. 

  2. Icing & Outlining — A batch of firm royal icing works well to outline cookies and treats. The borders, once in place, keeps color from running down cookie sides and onto the plate. This keeps the design relatively neat and tidy. A bit of outlining, for me, keeps my stories from meandering into uncharted territory and me from wasting time. While I’m a big fan of plotting/outlining, I realize not everyone subscribes to this practice. If it works for you, by all means color — or ice — outside the lines!

  3. Flair & Texture— The final thing to remember when decorating cookies or writing a novel is to add your own flair and personality. Only you can write your story. While many writers, especially fledgling novelists, try and emulate the talent and skill of authors like J.K. Rowling or Stephen King, we each must find our own voice. As with decorating cookies, building characters, crafting dialogue, or describing settings, there is a flair, texture, and voice only you can bring to your work. Use it, hone it, and enjoy it.

I’d love to hear what you think about decorating cookies and story detail. Anything you’d like to add? What have you learned lately that’s helped you in your own writing?



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