Today I made a pie.
I got the urge the other day. Which was strange, because a pie-making urge is not one of my normal desires.
I was making a carbonara penne for dinner, and the recipe told me to discard the three unused egg whites. I immediately felt insulted and decided they would better be used as a meringue. So today, what did I do? I rolled out of bed, had some Honey Nut Cheerios, finished Robopocalypse, and made a lemon meringue pie. Like ya do.
I constructed my pie crust by the recipe in my Newlywed Cookbook (we suddenly have several of these) and chilled it as specified. I rolled it out and plunked it into my pan after tinkering with sugar and cornstarch and lemon juice for a bit, only to discover that the crust didn’t quite reach the edges of the pan.
No worries, I thought. I just pinched the edges and popped that bad boy in the oven.
Silly, silly Emmie.
When it came out, it resembled a small child hiding under a blanket on a large bed. The edges of the crust didn’t quite reach the edges of the pan when it went in, but now it had sunk into the belly of the pan completely. I should have looked at the measurements of the pan — I suspect it’s 10 inches instead of 9.
I gritted my teeth and finished the pie anyway. My filling and meringue look beautiful (and taste addicting).
The point of all of this is that a pie crust is a structure, much like the development of a novel. Even if you have all the ingredients right (plot, characters, setting, conflict, tension, climax, denouement, etc.), sometimes you find that your pan is just too large. Or too small. And that your story flaps around outside it or bubbles up inside in a way that might taste pretty good still, but when held up to the scrutiny of readers and critics would lose marks for presence and basic things.
In the revision of Primeval, those things are what I’m looking for. I’m going back to measure the pan, calculate the ingredients, and make sure that the recipe I’m using creates just enough pie crust to look like this:
Why the trouble? If you have all the ingredients right and it tastes pretty good, why worry about the structure?
Because it’s not as good as it can be.
When you take the road to publication, and you want your novel to wow readers and climb the charts and establish a career for you, it needs to be as good as it can be. Without the proper structure and base, your story might look pretty good on the outside, but people who know stories will know something’s off. They’ll know you skimped on the pie crust and covered it with meringue to hide it. They’ll know that happened because you were too lazy to check a couple facts before presenting it.
Perhaps that’s a bit harsh. Everything has a few mistakes — growing up, my NeeNee (my mother’s partner) taught me a lot about cooking and art and life. That woman could make a delicious, beautiful pie crust. She created beautiful beaded hair clips and leatherwork. She taught me that in many Native American cultures, artists will add a mistake even if there isn’t one because nothing can be perfect. As writers, we don’t have to worry about adding a mistake — we can be well assured one will be in there regardless of how many edits we go through. But we can’t make a beautiful story without the right structure.
My pie will probably taste great. But it’s missing something vital. It’s missing that golden brown ruffle around the edges that its real structure would lend to it. That finishing rim that shows I put in the work to make this pie not only serviceable, but presentable. Something to be proud of.
So the goal for me is to not be lazy. To read the instructions and follow them. To make certain that my novel pie has a visible, golden, flaky crust. That its insides are gooey and melt in your mouth. That the meringue on top is crisp and lightly browned. That all the elements that make up my story come together in a harmonious blend that leaves readers no choice but to beg for another slice…and another.
Would you like some pie?
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