How To Write a Novel — Special Ability

Day 33 of writing my novel in public

Photo by Tanaphong Toochinda on Unsplash

I’ve started something scary here on Medium. It’s something I’ve done before, but never in public. I have a process that I’m going to follow, and I’d like to share it with you.

If you want to follow the journey from the start, go here.

If you missed yesterday’s, you can find it here.

Day 33 — Special Ability

I’m coming late to my writing today. We can categorise writers into three different bird types — the larks, the magpies and the owls. I’m normally a morning lark who likes to catch the worm first thing. I’m at my creative best when the rest of the day hasn’t muddied my thinking.

But today I had an early webinar so I’m only now coming to writing this. Today I am more of an opportunistic magpie, grabbing whatever time I can for my writing. For some, this might be on their commute to or from work, when the kids are at school or during their lunch hour.

I have yet to try being a night owl and working after the day has quietened down and the still of darkness descends. But I should give it a go to see how productive I am.

Anyway, back to today’s scene.

These are the story threads I need to weave together.

  • Charlie can bake in the dark — he works intuitively.
  • Charlie secretly bakes his cupcakes, using his ability to ‘see’ smells to bake at night in the dark.
  • Woofy wakes up when Charlie is baking in the dark. Charlie says, ‘Did you smell them?’ Woofy licks his hand.
  • Charlie fills the house with unfamiliar smells as he bakes in the dark.
  • The smell reminds Sandy of mum. Sandy comes downstairs after Woofy ‘tells’ her he is baking. She cries because the smell reminds her of mum.
  • Charlie fills the house with unfamiliar smells as he bakes in the dark. Sandy, his sister, cries when the smells remind her of her mum.
  • Charlie talks about baking something that smells terrible but tastes fantastic so that his sister Sandy won’t eat them all, and Sandy calls it a Reekin.

We have established that Charlie’s mum left a few months ago and his dad has only used the toaster since, so maybe, when Charlie opens the oven, a spider crawls out and he has to clear away the cobwebs from inside.

We are learning more about Charlie’s special ability to see smells, and this means that he can bake in the dark, merely from the smell of the ingredients to judge the quantities.

Against the clock

In order to make the best of my writing time and stop me from procrastinating, I am doing my drafting against the clock. I am looking for around 750 words for the scene, which I’ll do in three fifteen minute bursts.

Charlie’s dad spent most of the rest of the day with his head in his MyPI app, researching where Jest a Minute was located and looking at the manufacture and chemical composition of stink bombs. Charlie was desperate to start baking his cupcakes but he didn’t dare do so whilst his dad and sister were still around. His dad hadn’t been keen on the idea and he wanted to have the chance to enter the cupcake competition without him knowing. And Sandy, well she loved cupcakes. In fact she loved everything about them. She would probably eat all the mixture before he could get it in the oven if he told her.

So he waited until everyone had gone to bed before he sneaked out of his bedroom and back downstairs. The house was silent at this time of night, and he felt the lack of his mum like a hollow in his chest. She was always up late, just finishing something off, or investigating something new. He would bake the best cupcakes he had ever made for her.

He didn’t dare turn the lights on in case Dad or Sandy woke up and saw them, so he had to work by the meagre light of the street lamp shining through the kitchen window. It was enough for him to find the cooker dial and turn it up to 160 degrees centigrade to start warming.

When he opened the oven door for the first time in months, a spider tickled the back of his hand before escaping under the counter. He rubbed around inside with a damp cloth then washed the cobwebs off it.

Charlie could hardly see the ingredients he assembled on the workbench, but he didn’t need to because he could see their smell. First he combined the yellow droplet shapes of butter with the caramel swoop of the caster sugar, judging the quantities by the size of the shapes he saw. He creamed the two together with the back of a spoon into a warm splodge then added two large eggs, their rich brown curve springing to life as he cracked their shells.

He added triangular cream drops of vanilla and a shower of ivory dust from the flour. A pinch of pink petal salt finished the mixture. After he’d whisked it all together to a cloud of hazel, he spooned that into his cupcake cases.

Whilst the cakes baked, he cleaned up the dishes, wiped them and put them away again. Nutty brown rings danced before his eyes as the mixture rose inside the oven. He opened the door and nearly dropped the tin as a figure loomed out of the darkness towards him.

Grey wisps clung to it like ghosts, and Charlie knew the smell instantly. Woofy. “Did you smell them?” Charlie asked. “You’ll have to wait, they’re too hot.”

Woofy licked the back of Charlie’s hand.

“I don’t mind hot,” said a small voice from the stairwell.

Charlie spun round and stared at his sister. “What are you doing up? Get back to bed.”

“I came to find Woofy,” she said.

Woofy always slept in Sandy’s room.

“I suppose he told you I was down here,” said Charlie.

“No, I just noticed he was gone. And then there’s that smell. You’re baking cupcakes.”

“Just go back upstairs. Pretend you never smelt anything.”

“Give me one first.”

“They need to cool. And I haven’t decorated them.”

“Do you want me to go up and wake Dad?”

Charlie gritted his teeth. “Alright, I’ll give you one but you have to go straight back upstairs to bed. And this is our secret. Okay?”

Sandy rushed down the last steps and bounded over to scratch Woofy behind his ear.

“Is there one for Woofy too?”

“You’ll have to share,” said Charlie, pulling the casing off one of the cupcakes and passing it to her.

She pulled off a piece for Woofy and he gulped it down before she took a nibble herself. A soft sob escaped her lips and Charlie smelt the sharp bright spikes of tears run down her cheeks.

“What’s the matter now? Too hot? I told you to wait,” he said.

“It reminds me of Mum,” she said, her voice catching.

Charlie took his sister’s hand and led her back towards her bedroom.

“Next time I’m going to bake reekins,” he whispered, tucking her in.

“What’s a reekin?” she asked.

“It’s a special cupcake that smells terrible, but tastes delicious. That way they might survive long enough for me to decorate them.”

“You bake great,” she said with a yawn, then turned over and went back to sleep.


I like this scene between Charlie and his sister. Sandy is an annoyance for Charlie, but here we see them bond over missing their mum. It is the start of the journey which ends with Charlie asking Sandy to save the day at the launch of Miasmus’ latest scent. Of course, it is probably melodramatic, but I can work on that in revision.

Total word count 6,562 words.

Tomorrow I will write about the scene where Dad investigates Jest a Minute.

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If you want to try the process with me and write your own novel, I’d love to have you join me on this journey. Put in the comments on how you went with this step.

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