When to plot, and when not: chocolate, anyone?

chocolate-chocolate-cake In my case, that is. Last night I had an overwhelming craving for chocolate cake. Not any old cake, but my special chocolate cake. The one that turns out like the picture here. The one that I had to join a suburban housewives’ cult for, and swear never to divulge the super-secret-cult-recipe. There may even have been blood sacrifices involved. I forget – it was a decade or so ago.

What has that to do with plotting? Forgive me, not a whole lot – but I’ve found that when I’m doing more relaxing things like taking a shower, or baking a cake with a recipe burned into my brain through many happy repetitions and confidence of success, that’s when my stickiest plot problems tend to sort themselves out, by themselves, in my mind. So at around nine o’clock, the cake – a large one – is cooling on the rack, and I set to making the icing while I mull over all the possibilities of a just-discovered solution to a plot dilemma.

I’m feeling good. It will work well, add a new dimension to the story, and stirring the hot chocolate icing on the stove makes me feel very Juliette Binoche, a la Chocolat. I did notice that the two cups of icing sugar were behaving a little strangely as they melted, but this cake never turns out exactly the same way twice, and that switch of PoV for chapter 16 will be perfect.

I pour sticky hot-chocolate icing all over my lovely cake, and I’m so pleased with myself I even do the washing up straight away. I pack all the scattered packets of flour, sugar, and eggs away. Including the blue box of icing sugar that is still unopened, untouched. So what is this other empty blue box in my hand?

My shriek of horror lifted my husband clear off the couch. My dog is still traumatised. I have just poured two cups of pure sodium bicarbonate, beautifully and lumplessly blended with cocoa and buttermilk, all over the cake.

Don’t anyone dare mention invented adverbs right now, or I’ll make you eat some of it. Accidentally slurping a mouth-full of the Dead Sea has nothing on this cake. I did that once, so I can vouch for it.

After the horror, and a heroic but failed attempt by the BH to rescue said cake, the giggles set in, followed by bloody-minded stubbornness. Around ten o’clock, I started from the beginning. By midnight I was sipping coffee and dropping chocolate cake crumbs onto my keyboard.

There’s no real moral to this story – except perhaps “Don’t plot and bake” or  just “Put your darn reading glasses on, no matter how well you know the recipe.”

But if you insist, and a writer should always try for deeper meaning, let’s pretend I was aiming for a weird analogy to the process of editing and revision: attention to details; sheer determination; if it rolls like Dead Sea brine off the tongue, it’s probably time to start again.  That sort of thing.

Anyone else out there have a horror story to share? The shower has to present some fun opportunities for disaster.  And I have cake….

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9 thoughts on “When to plot, and when not: chocolate, anyone?

  1. He, he :) You’ve got the bloody-mindedness to be undefeated, something a writer needs.
    With me it happens some mornings, going about things mechanically while chasing the brilliant though ephemeral insight from a dream back into that other, finer dimension (hardly ever works) I pour muesli in my coffee filter.
    It takes that shot of coffee for my feet to connect with the floor and I, regrettably, feel grounded.

  2. Made this perfect set of pancakes for the kids one morning when they were very young. I had a bit of trouble finding the sugar, but eventually found it in a jar I hadn’t seen before. The kids were very young, and I was surprised to see that they weren’t eating anything. “These are yuck, Dad.” I tried one… it turns out the jar was full of rock salt. They make really nice looking pancakes. Spent about an hour looking for sugar after that. Didn’t want to disturb Gennie, who was asleep having just finished night duty at work. I had to admit defeat in the end. Who puts sugar in the fridge?

    1. Ah, but full points for effort and being a great dad, Scott! (I’d never have found the sugar in the fridge, either!) I have found the hot-but-now-cold cup of coffee that I was sure I had just made sitting on the rack next to the milk, though :(

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