The Baker: A Character Study

This is a simple short story written about one of the main characters of a new novel concept I’m working on.  I’m pretty much just exploring the character and the world.  Most likely this will be the first of several short stories to help me further develop my ideas.  Also, I am very open to critiques/comments/suggestions about my writing.  I’d love to hear feedback.

**********

The brick oven was slowly spreading it’s warmth around the bakery. The sun had yet to rise and Walter was thankful he wouldn’t have to work in the frigid cold for long. He had always hated the cold, preferring the sweltering bakery when it was busy. But, he knew when he accepted the apprenticeship that the early mornings would not be kind.

Walter let his hands linger at the opening of the oven for a moment longer before finally turning around. His eyes roamed the small room, mapping out the rest of his day at the bakery. He was tasked with starting up the oven and making the first rounds of dough for baking. It would be another hour before Stephan, the master baker, arrived. Until then the bakery was his. At least, in his mind it was.

When his scarred hands stopped freezing he knew it was time to start the dough. He strode over to the stacked sacks of flour. A small grunt escaped as he hoisted one of the sacks over his shoulder. The resounding thud of burlap on wood almost surprised him as he shouldered the flour onto a table. It was the loudest thing he’d heard all morning.

He made quick work of gathering and measuring all the ingredients. Walter moved around the bakery with the efficiency of a hard learned baker. It had been three years since Stephan took him as an apprentice. He was 14 at the time, orphaned with no place to go. The aging baker had no sons of his own, and he took pity on Walter. An easy agreement was made between the two. Stephan would teach Walter an invaluable trade, while Walter would help around the bakery and tackle the tasks too laborious for the baker. Luckily, Walter picked up the trade quickly and easily. He even enjoyed the work, which was evident in the inimitable breads he baked.

At the moment, he was mixing one such batch. When the dough started to ball he split it into halves for kneading. He smoothly floured a table and grabbed the first batch of dough for the morning. A plume of flour shot into the air as dense, pliable dough hit the wood table. Dexterous fingers quickly went to work, kneading the mound.

Push. Fold. Smash. Quarter-turn.

The process was a simple, if arduous one.

Push. Fold. Smash. Quarter-turn.

There was a certain clarity of mind that came with the repetitive motions.

Push. Fold. Smash. Quarter-turn.

For Walter, it marked the only thoughtless and worry-free time he possessed.

Push. Fold. Smash. Quarter-turn. SMACK!

Every fourth quarter-turn he lifted the dough then briskly slammed it back onto the table. The satisfying sound immediately fell into a rhythm. A methodical melody filled the small bakery, serenading none but Walter.

Slowly but surely the dough transformed from a viscous mass into a smooth slab. When Walter was satisfied with the texture of the dough he set it aside to rise. Before starting on the second mass he grabbed a towel and wiped the sweat form his forehead. The physical exertion and the heat from the oven had rapidly warmed him up. He chanced a glance out the shutters, and saw the sky was beginning to lighten. He had to get working again if he was to have the dough in the oven by the time Stephan arrived. Ignoring the burning in his muscles, Walter grabbed the second piece of dough and vigorously began to knead.

By the time Stephan entered the shop, Walter had already scaled the risen dough and put it in the oven. Now he was working on specialty breads, and barely looked up when Stephan walked in. The master baker walked over to the brick oven to examine the bread inside. He shook his head with a smile.

“Perfectly scaled and shaped,“ he praised. “Maybe I should let you take over the shop tomorrow, eh?”

That caught Walter’s attention. He paused and looked up at Stephan. His dark, young eyes met Stephan’s wise blue ones. Walter determined the old man was joking, but he made sure to remember that remark.

“I dunno Master Stephan. Who would buy all my flat and burnt pastries?” Walter asked with a guilty smile. Bread and rolls he had mastered, but the art of pastries still eluded him.

Stephan chuckled as he made his way across the bakery. “When I have the resources to waste good pastries on you, I’ll let you practice,” he teased Walter. “Til then, you’re stuck on bread, my boy.”

“I know, I know,” Walter said with a sigh. He wasn’t entirely sure the old man just wanted to keep his precious secrets to himself. But he was determined to learn, no matter how long it took. If Walter was sure of anything in this world, it was that he was going to be a baker and take over Master Stephan’s bakery.

He couldn’t have been more wrong.

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About Aly Hughes
Unprofessional, unedited, unpublished. Aly is out to make a name for herself by blogging, twittering, facebooking, and general internet-ing. Be warned: She may not know what she's talking about.

8 Responses to The Baker: A Character Study

  1. rmridley says:

    I enjoyed it. The character is certainly emerging there but there is a lot you only skimmed that makes me want to read on to know why, how, …. I short that does hook and draw in – I definitely wanted to ‘turn the page’ had there been one.
    but –
    I’m not quite sure what – I think there was, on occasion, a bit too much description, or the words used were five dollar when one dollar might have worked better. The voice didn’t quite match the scene – manual labour – scarred knuckles- yet, PHD voice – made it a heavy read.

    This is just a pet peeve but -.”… to work in the frigid cold for long. He had always hated the cold, preferring the sweltering….” i think the first cold should be something else – air – perhaps
    And this line right at the beginning really caused me to stumble and trip when i read it “….But, he knew when he accepted the apprenticeship that…”

    Just odd little things that made it too dense to really sink the teeth into.

    but DON’T GET ME WRONG HERE -I want more!
    the unexplainable quality in this short that I’m complaining about would NOT make me put down the book. KEEP at it!!!!

    Now when it comes around and I post something – I expect the same ‘no holds barred’ critique from you please (because I would respect you opinion a great deal, having now read the above short)

    • Aly Hughes says:

      Oh, I do love a good analysis. I almost wish I could send you a hard copy to see the red ink!

      I’ve been critiqued on my ‘wordiness’ before, so thank you for bringing that up. I know it’s something I need to spend more time working on, particularly in the editing phase.

      Also, I agree with your comment about manual labor but a PHD voice. Something I’ve noticed in my writing is that whether it’s fiction, science fiction, fantasy, or what have you, my “voice” is generally consistent. I think I need more practice in altering my tone to better compliment the story. Does that make sense? Any ideas on good exercises for that?

      It looks like the specific pet peeve sentences come down to my wording as well.

      I am glad you enjoyed it overall! To be honest, this little scene wouldn’t be written into the novel. However, I find that this is a great opportunity to build up a character, and imagery in my head, as well as hone my writing in a way that’s relevant to the story I eventually want to tell. (See, wordiness! If you think this is bad, you should hear me speak.)

      An invite to read your writing? Don't mind if I do. I'm genuinely flattered you'd respect my critique in return. Thank you.

      • rmridley says:

        Well it might be a bit before i get any if mine up …when i do have at it!
        Glad you appreciated my thoughts and didn’t take them the wrong way – but i had a feeling you were made of sterner stuff.
        The only thing i can thing of to help with voice is do four people around a table having a conversation, make it third person and constantly switch whose head you are in – let us hear their thoughts, while maintaining the conversation voice for each of the four – rotate round untill each character has had a chance to be the main ‘voice’ twice.
        The ‘god’ voice or ‘your style of writing’ is always going to be in ‘your voice’ but you can change the feel of the characters (even Stephan King couldn’t pretend he was someone else – the fans heard his voice and finally he admitted it) but each if his character was distinct while in their heads.

        • Aly Hughes says:

          That definitely sounds like it would be worth trying. I’m also not very good with dialogue, so it could help me with that as well!

          One thing I have thought of, is writing in the style of Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind. I’m not sure if you’ve read it, but basically it starts off with a traditional 3rd person narrative, then goes into 1st person as the main character is telling his adventures to a chronicler. Every few chapters it’ll revert back to “real time” and go into 3rd person again, only to switch back with the MC’s storytelling. Very intriguing set-up and it has the best of both worlds. Perhaps it would be easier for me to ground myself within the character if I’m writing both from his point of view as well as my narrative.

          Good food for thought!

          • rmridley says:

            I have not read that book – but it has come up in discussions before regarding its change of view. I don’t think there is a wrong way to write just different.
            We’ll keep posting and I’ll keep being honest.

  2. Omer Willson says:

    Awesome writing style!

  3. Tuesday says:

    Hello Aly,

    I been reading through some of your posts and am enjoying them. I really like your snippets about Paige, for example. Great way to capture and catalogue your ideas. I should do something like that with all the crazy dreams I have that I sometimes think would make good stories!

    I have one simple suggestion, something I’ve been working on via the passive voice editing feature on posts. Basically, I try to get rid of as many past tense and “ed” ending words as possible to use an active tense which feels more in the moment…even when relaying something from the past. I’d be happy to rework a paragraph or two with this idea in mind and you can see what you think. I don’t want to be presumptuos, though. Any feedback you can offer on my posts is welcome as well. Perhaps we could be feedback buddies via that email option of wordpress. 🙂

    Cheers,
    Tuesday

    • Aly Hughes says:

      I would definitely recommend writing little shorts on things that happen, or that you dream. It’s pretty fun and it gives me something to write about when I hit a roadblock in another story. For me, Paige is a pet project. I’m not rushing it, just writing things a they come, and who knows, maybe eventually I’ll turn it into something big!

      Thanks for the advice. I’m really flattered you like my writing, and I don’t think you’re being presumptuous at all. Feel free to rework, edit, and scribble on my writings, that’s why I’m posting these! 🙂 Also, I would love to be feedback buddies. I haven’t actually used that feature yet on WordPress, is it easy? I guess I need to experiment around. 🙂

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