Cakes have layers. So does Photoshop. That’s how I did the picture above – with layers. The top layer is the black and white layer, the second layer lying underneath is the color layer. Use the eraser tool to reveal the color underneath, and look what you get! (although there is more to it than that to get my end result here, that’s the basic idea)
I write the same way. Thanks to an inspiring post from Liana Brooks, I have been thinking about layers a lot these days. What is the best way to write? I ask myself. And more importantly, what is the best way to edit? Liana’s post is really helpful. I highly recommend it if you’re looking at good ways to edit. For this post I am going to focus on layering your writing.
What Is Layering?
Think of it like the photo above. You have one picture on top of the other. When you combine the two and add a little creativity, you can get something wonderful and beautiful – and more importantly, interesting and unique.
It’s kind of like your body, too. Underneath everything is the skeleton. Add muscle tissue, skin, and then all the fine details that make the person interesting and unique on the outside.
Why Should You Layer?
If you’re anything like me, it’s kind of hard to keep everything straight in your story. First there’s the basic plot. Then other plots going here and there that tie into that basic plot. Then characters and setting and internal conflict and research and grammar and symbolism and word length and sentence structure and tone and voice and on and on!
Take a deep breath.
Wouldn’t it be easier to start simple? That’s how I do it. Start with the first picture – the skeleton. Build on that. Layer by layer. Worry about one thing at a time. Focus on what matters at the moment with the knowledge that the other important things are coming up later. Planned and waiting.
Now doesn’t that sound easier?
How Should You Layer?
I think there are many ways to layer your writing. Here’s what works for me:
(1) Summarize your book in one sentence. If you can’t do this, you don’t know what your story is about. Trust me. I’ve learned this the hard way. I learned this from the Snowflake Outline method, which is very helpful, even if you only use bits and pieces of it.
(2) Write a basic outline. People do this differently, as well. I start by doing a very brief outline, then moving on to a summary of each chapter. Flesh out your characters as well as you can by thinking about them, giving them flaws and strengths, writing about them outside of the story, etc.
(3) Write your story. Just do it! Finish it. Write it the best you can. Add whatever you can. But don’t stress about the little things like small plot holes, character inconsistencies, even grammar and polishing. These are for later layers.
(4) Start Layering. This is different for everybody. My first layers are polishing up the plot holes and character inconsistencies. Things that bugged me the whole way through the first draft that I kept telling myself I’d go back and fix later. My later layers are the fine tuning and beautifying. I like to write with a literary slant. This is where I start adding more symbolism, tweaking word choices, altering dialogue and details, etc.
(5) I’m making this sound simple for a reason. Because it should be. I used to write by going back through every chapter as I wrote it. I would edit as I went, concerned that if what I had written wasn’t perfect, I couldn’t continue. I never got anywhere. So glad I’ve moved on from there! I think that’s why I am writing this post – for any of you that might be stuck in the same rut.
(6) Don’t Work Alone! Liana has a great point about layered writing/editing:
The worst thing to do here is think that layered editing will make it possible for you to edit in a vacuum. I’m sorry, but it won’t. Everything you write will make sense to you (or it should). That doesn’t mean it will make sense to your readers.
I agree. I can’t stress enough the importance of getting your work out there for others to read. Join a writing group if you can. Although I have slowly learned that I cannot cater to my readers, I also cannot write without their opinions and advice. It’s a fine balance, that’s for sure.
If you stop to notice things around you, so many things have layers. Music. Food. Plants. Buildings. Scents. And apparently (thanks PJ for mentioning this in the comments, because I was thinking it, too, ogres have layers!) It’s a natural way to form things. It works for writing, too. At least for me!
See The Reading & Critiquing In Layers post for more info.