Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Writing in Layers

What does this mean?

I’ve been asked on several occasions what I mean when I say I write in layers. When I begin a novel I tend to write lean. This means I write the story fast and furious, getting my main ideas out and on paper as quickly as possible. When I’m finished, I’m oftentimes left with a potentially great story, but one that sounds flat and lifeless.

The first draft is called a Rough Draft because that’s exactly how it’s written, rough. As I stated above, I throw it down without any care to grammar, punctuation, details, or any other technical thoughts to the draft. My main goal is to develop a plot, write ‘stick men’ characters (no features, personalities, etc.), and get the story out. I tend to do a lot of ‘telling’ during this first draft, and use way too many adjectives.

Layering is the means in which I put life into a story. Below is my process for writing.

First Revision: This is where I begin to add details. I dig deeper into the characters and flesh them out, breathe life into them, give them personalities, and make them relatable. I think about their environment and bring in as many of the five senses as possible. What are they seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, or smelling? Is there a pot of stew on the stove? Describe the smells and/or taste. Is there an argument going on in another part of the house? I take a look around and describe what the character is seeing or touching.

Then I look at the scenery and do the same thing. Like I said, I do quite a bit of ‘telling in the first draft. Now I pull a complete mental image of where my character is and describe it in greater detail, again trying to bring in senses other than just sight. Here’s an example:

Original draft: Danielle stepped into Charles Simpson’s office and stood in the middle of the room. It looked neat and tidy.

First Revision: Danielle took a quick glance around as she stepped into Charles Simpson’s office. The aroma of a cigar touched her senses the moment she entered and her taste buds puckered. She looked around for the repulsive odor. Her eyes caught sight of a slow stream of smoke drifting up from an ashtray that sat on top of a large mahogany desk between two tall windows on the far wall. To the right sat two dark brown overstuffed sofas placed front-to-front and set on top of a beautiful white plush carpet. An empty green, cut glass crystal bowl rested on top of the heavy wooden coffee table that sat between the sofas. Deep floor-to-ceiling mahogany bookshelves covered most of the walls. The books and model airplane collectables had been neatly and strategically arranged throughout. Danielle wandered over and fingered the leather spines. Charles had an eclectic collection of novels, biographies, and an array of books on airplanes. She smirked and shook her head.

Do you see how the revision has pumped life into the scene? This version gives the reader much more clarity as to where my character is, what she’s feeling, and what she’s seeing. This helps the reader to attached and bond. The character and set become three-dimensional. The reader has more clarity and visual, and can almost put themselves in the room with the character.

Second Revision: I use this revision to concentrate on my grammar, spelling, and punctuation. I also conduct a heavy trimming of adjectives. I use this revision to strengthen and tighten my sentences. I look for ‘purple prose’ and eliminate where possible.

Third Revision: I go through my MS one more time and cut wherever possible. I look for paragraphs that do not move the story forward, carry too much back story, or seem like fluff and remove or revise them.

Critiques: At this point, I get with my critique groups, listen to what they have to say, and revise again.

Beta Readers: I have a group of five people: 2 family members, 1 friend, and 2 acquaintances, read my novel and provide me with constructive and invaluable criticism. Then I revise again.

Copyediting: After the revisions from the critiques and readers, I send my MS off to my copyeditor for final touches.

Now I’m ready (hopefully) to farm it out to agents.

It’s a long and tiring process, but it pays off in the end, at least for me.

I hope you found this information helpful. Feel free to leave a comment and tell us the processes that work for you. We’d love to hear it.

As always, I wish you my best in your success,

Dee Ann