I’ve a new project on the go. And this has happened at least three times before, but I’m getting the feeling this might be The One.
Title: WEIGHING UP
Because the story is set in a bakery, this title refers literally to the measuring of ingredients and figuratively to the valuing of potential results of a choice. Thematically, it also points to one of the main conflicts in the lives of modern teenagers: body image and the ever-unfulfilled desire to be ‘enough’. Some characters weigh too much; others weigh too little—my MC learns how to balance the scales.
Genre/Category: YA Contemporary
My MC is fourteen, so this time round I’m aiming for the lower end of YA. This is as much to keep at bay my characteristic (and unwelcome) longwinded introspection as anything else. Tight writing! Tight writing!
Wordcount Goal: 50-60k
I’m looking at around twenty-five chapters of two thousand words each. Knowing me, I’m likely to go overboard, but if I aim for fifty thousand I’ve space to manoeuvre. No more 132,000s and frantic fruitless cutting! (I haven’t given up on Drina, but I’ve accepted that she can’t debut in her complete form.)
I’m taking an interesting liberty here, by slimming down my count of female characters to the bare minimum. In the first and last thirds my MC, Flavie, navigates a world completely male since the death of her grandmother. She has many conflicts and insecurities going on, but contrives to retain a façade of completion and self-control. Her only explicit dilemma is how to honour a promise to her brother while simultaneously keeping the said façade intact.
Her seven-year-old brother, Thibault, is asthmatic, a stammerer, and trusts Flavie above all else. Flavie’s job is to protect him, mother him, conceal her own sufferings, and procure whatever he desires.
The rest of the family consist of Monsieur Herriot, a hardened baker with little love for anything not concerning his beloved profession, Flavie’s mother, a cold, distant voice down the telephone, and vegetarian Oncle E, who might have been cast off by the Herriots before Flavie’s birth, but still seems to owe a duty to old Mrs Herriot.
Flavie’s boyfriend, Xavier, is no better. All he wants is a nice, painless date and for Flavie to for-heaven’s-sakes-stop-sighing.
I have no direct antagonist. If I’m sticking to real life, it isn’t some one-on-one duel between good and evil. A teenager does things, makes a hash of everything, and feels like he/she is up against everyone else in existence. The only person Flavie isn’t fighting is Thibault, but it’s his desires that embody her nemesis.
As I said, a family bakery in a fictional town some way out of Paris. Near to both the hub of culinary expertise and the city of romance. Ironic, because all the couples separate and Flavie faces an eating disorder.
Style and Tone:
I’m looking for a full-stop-peppered, anticlimactic tone that nevertheless has an unexpected impact. Events won’t happen with a bang; they’ll fall flat. Why? My experience of the teenage years is as an epoch of waiting for something great and elaborate and soul-defining to happen. But it never does quite happen, and you’re often left feeling just a little bit less satisfied and emptier than before. Flavie ends up conforming, because she has no choice but to conform. “But that’s okay,” she says. “Or it will be.” No big statement. No mass revolution. Just, ‘it’ll be okay’.
I’ve written the first and last chapters, and because I’m fairly happy with what I’ve written, I honour you with my first page as it currently stands, with minimal editing. Yes, there are many problems. First draft, guys, first draft!
Happy Christmas, all!
If anything, she wished she were fatter. For someone who exercised her right to differ as she did, she rather failed at consistency.
Consistency—meaning add more milk or beat by hand. Herriot Bakery aspired perfection. As if Flavie could ever measure up like four pounds of flour.
So Grandmaman insisted. Though she’d never shirked weighing others against the scales. Maybe she simply meant Flavie couldn’t make the recipe. Flavie didn’t disagree.
The bus windows heaved with precipitation of the April kind, the don’t-think-about-summer-quite-yet kind, juddering like machine gun pistons when Flavie pressed her hot cheek against them.
If funerals meant cake, they didn’t mean liberty. Even Oncle E had come, abandoning wet dog and coriander soup to the inbred population on his remote Anglo-Norman island. It seemed he owed a duty to the mother who’d cast him off.
“Vegetarian,” Grandmaman hissed from beneath the shroud.
Last lesson had been awful. Some hush-voiced teacher must’ve told the class ‘you must be good to Flavie. Flavie is bereaved. You must all join together to help her through her time of trouble’.
So they said nothing and shrank from her silence. So she almost smiled at their pity.
Only so long till her father raised the subject of the Bakery again. She wondered how soon the novelty of Grandmaman’s absence would wear off. If anything ‘wore on’ her father.
“You. Flavie. Is this deliberate blanking? Because I’m only going to say your name twenty times more and expect an answer.”