Friday Speak Out!: Your Novel at Its Best

Friday, September 04, 2020
by Linda Stewart Henley

Julia Child wrote, “The souffle is the egg at its most magnificent.” Just like a souffle that puffs and fills its mold, a novel needs whipping into shape to rise to expectations as a finely crafted literary meal.

One of the best ways to achieve success in writing novels is to learn from other writers who have honed their craft. Literary materials include such things as appropriate word choice, rich descriptions, dramatic scenes, believable characters, an engaging storyline, realistic dialogue, mounting tension, and a satisfactory denouement. However, creating a story using all of these ingredients may result in a successful book, or it may simply fall flat.

A first draft is rarely a finished product. The writer needs to use the freshest impulses to develop the story, to move it along with vigor so that it doesn’t feel labored or contrived. When a draft is complete, the writer needs to review it with a critical eye to catch inconsistencies of plot, main characters that fail to reach an arc, and scenes that don’t move the story forward. All the right ingredients may be blended, but they usually need a deft touch to bind them together and make a good tale.

After several revisions, the writer may reach a point where she no longer sees the errors. This is when another set of eyes can be invaluable. A critic’s advantage is the ability to evaluate a work without the author’s emotional investment. New writers sometimes resist this necessary step, either out of fear of exposing the work, of rejection, or from an unwillingness to change their precious words. The often-stated adage that a writer should be willing to “kill her darlings” applies to the often painful revision process. A good editor is a friend, and it’s necessary to believe that in order to accept a harsh critique. Naturally not all changes suggested by someone else will be deemed acceptable--that’s the author’s decision. However, often a good novel can be made better, or even great, by wise use of another person’s suggestions.

Julia Child says that a souffle’s success is all about the way that the eggs are beaten and folded in. In my novel Estelle I had trouble with the beginning scene. Originally it was dramatic, well written, and intriguing, but it wasn’t about the protagonist. After I had finished my first draft a reader told me that, as much as he liked the opening scene, it didn’t provide the right setting for the storyline. Reluctantly, I cut it out. I was able to reintroduce part of that scene later, where it served a useful purpose.

Making a souffle involves the use of eggs by folding and incorporating them into the mixture without compromising either the egg whites or the elasticity of the flour. It’s a delicate process involving balance. That’s the final word in editing a novel: the various elements have to balance. It’s a judgement call, probably more art than science, and a good critique always helps.

* * * 
 photo by Mark Gardner
LINDA STEWART HENLEY is an English-born American who moved to the United States at sixteen. She is a graduate of Newcomb College of Tulane University in New Orleans. She currently lives with her husband in Anacortes, Washington. This is her first novel. Find her online at and on FaceBook at
Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


Joanne said...

Loved your analogy, Linda, and how you threaded it all the way through. It also strikes me, given your story about revising the beginning, that the eggs have to be broken first ... before they can help the end product rise to its magnificent heights. :)

Sioux Roslawski said...

Linda--You and Joanne make quite a team. ;) I also appreciated your analogy... and I think Joanne extended it. (Joanne got me to join a writing accountability group--that's what a sharp cookie she is!)

Thanks for the post, and good luck with your future writing.

Linda Stewart Henley said...

Thanks for your feedback, Joanne and Sioux!

Powered by Blogger.
Back to Top