Thursday, February 10, 2011
L is for Layering
This week, our next stop on the Writer's Alphabet blog brings us to L - for Layering. I want to welcome fellow author and good friend, Kimberley Dehn.
Layering brings depth, drama, conflict and surprise to a simple, straight forward plot that, without twists and turns, will bore your reader: a cardinal sin!
Layering means constructing your story in stages, bringing first-draft, one-dimensional characters to life; splashing color across your scenery. Layering connects scenes and subplots, and gives cohesion to your character’s goals, motivations and conflicts as the plot thickens. It strengthens your story by slowly peeling away the apple skin to reveal the core hides a rare diamond. Layering divulges your mousy banker’s wife character wears red lingerie and gets a thrill from shoplifting. It exposes the body lying beneath an award-winning garden.
How you layer your story is unique to each author. For me, after I’ve sketched out each chapter with plot, scenes, characters and conflicts all doing what I want them to do, I then begin my second draft. Revision is layering. I look at my plot and think, how can I complicate this simple idea? I know more about my characters in the second draft than I did in the first, so when I revise my plot I also revise my characters to have them connect and enhance one another; to add depth and diversity.
In my first draft my bankers wife accompanied her ambitious husband to a company picnic at the home of his employer, the bank president, but I did nothing more with her. In my second draft, I have her steal a pretty bracelet. My initial intention is to cause her husband grief when he finds out. But then I realize I can have her wear that bracelet to a garden club event where one of the members recognizes the bracelet as belonging to her sister who is rumored to have run away with her married lover. The bracelet is a one-of-a-kind valuable heirloom; something her sister is never without. Her sister is missing. The woman demands to know how the banker’s wife got the bracelet, which puts the banker’s wife in a bad position as she stole the bracelet from inside the bank president’s house. Hm!
My first draft sketched my kleptomaniac banker’s wife as a chink in her ambitious husband’s armor, but through layering I realized her petty theft thrills were an ideal catalyst to unearth a murder and the desperate actions of the murderer hiding in plain sight.
Layering is also done with descriptions to enable your reader to see your fictional world in living color. It daubs in the five senses (my own characters rarely breathe before my final draft). Stilted dialogue is massaged to sound natural and also to define each character. Foreshadowing is blended in, alluding to in the first chapter what will be revealed in act three.
If I’m working on a complicated plot, I will take each subplot one at a time and follow it through the entire story, looking for ways to enhance the other plot threads. Layering in stages also helps you to balance a scene originally written with excessive narrative, dialogue or description. Layering applies not only to adding to strengthen your story, but also subtracting. Tweaking. Cutting away the excess to hone your plot and characters into the essential of what is necessary to tell your story without a single word more.
Things to consider when you layer:
Scenes: each scene must serve a purpose. If it reads more like an information dump, take it apart and weave the information into other, stronger scenes. Also, is your scene visible in that your reader is able to see what your character sees?
Characters: do the primary characters have solid goals, motivations and conflicts? Are they interconnected and conflicted to build strength? Give your secondary characters something important to do. A waitress serving your character can also innocently reveal a vital clue. Do your characters possess five senses? When they sip that latte, will your reader taste the vanilla flavoring? Will a revolving overhead fan give the character a chill, or waft a familiar perfume into their nostrils that may reveal a clue?
Layering is an essential part of bringing your story to life. Plot arcs are defined. Character flaws are revealed. The stage is set and the plot thickens!
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Kimberley Dehn’s debut novel, SOUTHERN EXPOSURE, a romantic comedy, finaled for a 2009 EPIC e-Book Award and acquired several pre-published awards for best novel. “I love offbeat comedy and sassy dialogue. If you’re looking for a poignant story steeped in true to life…you won’t find it under my name. I want my readers to suspend belief and just have a laugh out loud good time.”
Kim is also the creator of The Character Interview, and Launching the Novel workshop, and has written numerous articles for novice writers. She also wrote book reviews for Romance Forever magazine. Besides her addiction to storytelling, Kim enjoys photography (check out the shadow ‘cleavage’ on my book cover), traveling, and is a passionate animal lover who is determined to save the world, one kitty at a time.
Kim is currently putting the finishing touches on layering her latest comedy. Stay tuned!