Gently Fold to Combine

Gently Fold to Combine

I love baking. If you also bake, you know that some recipes begin with directions to beat together softened butter and sugar, as the base for a cake or cookies. Other recipes indicate that some ingredients need to be gently folded into another – as in combining sugar and flour into stiffly-beaten egg whites to form the batter of an angel food cake.

When I compose fiction, I’m baking an angel food cake, gently folding in the ingredients of characterization, setting, plot, point of view, and theme. I strive to be subtle rather than aggressive, interweaving all the elements into a perfectly satisfying story. But I often struggle, especially when the story features a theme about which I’m passionate. My work as a writer lies in telling an entertaining story without browbeating my readers with the theme, however important I deem it to be.

For instance, in Freshman Mom, the lead character returns to college to learn the skills to make a better life for herself and her family. My task was to gently fold in the theme, the value of higher education, into a light-hearted tale about a newly divorced mom raising two teenagers while going to school. Judging from reviews, I think I was successful. It’s a task that’s challenging and fun. I often tell my writing students that a well-told story speaks volumes louder than a meticulously-researched academic brief with the same theme.

My current fiction project is far different from the last, because we are products of our environment, and the world has dramatically changed since I wrote the first book. Our experiences now include a pandemic, mutated variants, and continued evidence of global warming. Our language has changed as well and now includes phrases such as the “Me, Too Movement,” the oxymoron “alternative facts,” the phrase “unconscious bias,” the acronym ICYMI (in case you missed it), and others.

The political, thematic realities of the last several years burn inside me, as I strive to gently fold them into a satisfying story, while respecting the varying viewpoints of my readers. Phew. I love the quote from Maya Angelou who famously said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Yep.

So, how do you, my colleagues, address your truths, your untold stories inside you, the important themes of the day, through your fiction? (This article is reprinted with permission from the Valley Scribe newsletter of the San Fernando Valley Branch of the California Writers Club, Feb. 2023.)

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