I started writing my first book about a year ago (in fact I finished the rough draft on July 3, 2008).  Since that time I have learned so much about writing, crafting a good storyline, writing compelling characters, etc. – not to mention the whole publishing end of the business.

But perhaps the most important thing I have learned is that the secret to a great story really lies in the layers.  Like a great painter, stories are develop in a series of layers – each one adding depth to the story itself. 


Take a look at the video about oil painting. 


See how the picture comes to life with each layer that is added.  I believe writing a great story happens in the same way.  We start with an idea.  Then we outline, or storyboard, or simply let the idea blossom in our minds.  After a while we begin to write.  Once we have the “shell” of the story done, we take to the task of rewriting/revising.

It is in this process where I believe the layers are added – a layer of depth (including foreshadowing and other literary devices), a layer of meaning (where we add a social commentary or major theme), a layer of emotion (more on this particular layer in upcoming posts), etc, etc.

These layers can get woven in from the beginning.  But it takes the rewriting processes for them to get fleshed out, optimised and transformed into something more.  You see, for me writing a story is always a situation where the final story is greater than the sum of its parts (or in this case layers).

But what about you?  Do you layer stories?  How and when does this happen for you?


5 thoughts on “A Well Crafted Storyline: The Secret is in the Layers

  1. I totally agree – in fact, I was just discussing this with a friend last night. I said I thought of it like making taco meat. Finishing the first draft is like browning the hamburger. It can be eaten that way and could still be good. But it’s much better once you’ve added all the spices 🙂 The painting analogy is much prettier…and less greasy ;-D

    I’m about to enter that process and it intimidates the crap out of me. For my first book, I liked the editing process. This time, I’m not really looking forward to it. But then again, I am just barely finishing the first draft. After I let it sit for a few days I’m sure I’ll be raring to go 😀

  2. The ms I just finished is actually the 4th I’ve completed in about a year and a half. I know, crazy, but what else is there to do while infomercials are on TV in the wee hours of the morn?

    Anyway, even though this is the 4th, this is the first one I’m delving into the “layering” with. I’ve learned so much in the last year and a half, my writing has improved and people have shared so many different techniques that I’ve slowly tried to find what works for me. It’s worked out to be a bit of a hybrid of knowledge people have shared, and in the past, revision after revision worked, but I’m nervous about trying out this new layering. Will keep ya posted on how it goes 😉

  3. I totally layer. Usually during the writing process. See, I’m one of those people that edits as they go. Like when I sit down to write today, I usually back-read about ten pages from what I wrote previously. This helps me maintain my voice, and gets me back with the narrating character.

    So as I do this, I edit a bit. A word here, a phrase there. Deleting. And I layer. Clothes, emotions, setting clues, etc. So by the time my first draft is done, most sections have been read over and edited several times already.

    Then I give it to my crit buddies. They tell me what else I need to put into my MS to really make it 3-dimensional. Cuz I think that’s the goal of layering. Making the world, the characters, the story have “depth.”

  4. Michelle – your new story will be great…no need to worry at all.

    Windy – I felt that way with book #1 (that has gone through about a million versions as I learn this whole layering thing)

    Elana – we gotta stop this twin thing – I go back and read when I start to write also…which leads to revising a little while writing. And my goal is certainly a 3-dimensional product as well.

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