Literary Baklava: Adding Layers of Meaning to Your Novel

As newlyweds, Ron and I frequented a local deli owned and operated by a man known  as Big Al. Though his tiny deli ( it had  only 5 tables) was located in the heart of a sprawling Dallas suburb, it might as well have been sitting in the heart of Athens (Greece, not Athens, Texas).  Most everything on Big Al’s menu, except for the sandwiches, came wrapped in grape leaves and garnished with chunks of feta cheese and marinated olives. Big Al’s was also the only place in town that served Dr. Brown’s sodas. But the main reason we loved going there was to indulge in a serving of  Big Al’s baklava: layer upon layer upon layer of paper-thin pastry filled with chopped nuts, butter, and cinnamon, all  soaked in honey. Biting into it, one tasted first the subtle crunch of the pastry, then the nutty flavor of the pecans, the creamy spiciness  of butter and cinnamon, and then the long, sweet finish.

A novel is built in the same way–adding meaning by layering various types of character actions and reactions to the bare bones of the dialog, and enriching the story as a whole through the use of metaphors. Here’s a rough example with the layering shown in italics:

Bare bones dialog:

“I’m shutting down the plant next month,” Jake said.

“Probably for the best.”

“Come about!”


“I’m shutting down the plant next month,” Jake said, not meeting her gaze. (physical reaction)

Mary watched him tighten his grip on the boat’s tiller. (physical reaction). Obviously the boss’s decision hadn’t been an easy one. Everyone knew the plant had lost money for three straight years. But in a town as small as Harper’s Cove, what were his employees to do?( internal reaction) Her mouth went dry. ( physical reaction) Mary reached into the cooler for a can of cola and popped the top. (physical reaction)  Jake Hardin had been born into wealth and privilege. No wonder he didn’t reallize that losing Hardin Industries would be a huge setback not only for him, but for the whole town. Still, he was a good guy. And nothing she might say could change the company’s bottom line. Why make him feel worse? (internal reaction) She sipped the cola and set the can into its holder near the stern. (physical)

“It’s probably for the best.” (verbal reaction)

“Come about!” Jake called.

She ducked her head as the boom swung wide and wind billowed  the sails. (physical reaction) That was the problem with falling in love with someone like Jake Hardin.

Trying to make him see things from her point of view was merely spitting in the ocean. (metaphor)

This is a very rough example. I’m sure you can do better! But I hope it will help you in building a story layer by layer, a story that ultimately will be as sweet, as rich, and and as satisfying as a piece of Big Al’s baklava.













4 thoughts on “Literary Baklava: Adding Layers of Meaning to Your Novel

    1. dorothy Post author

      I love bakalva, too, but none has come close to Big Al’s. 🙂 Thanks for checking in at Writers Caffeine and for writing. Hope this post is helpful!

  1. Jackie

    I love the picture you paint here. I appreciate your writing this. I love bakalva also.

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