Tuesday, March 13, 2012


I am a firm believer that everything is better with layers. If you stop and think about it I'm quite sure you'll agree with me. Parfaits: layers, Trifle: layers. But it’s also true with music. Yes, a piano or violin is beautiful on it's own, but an orchestra will stir your soul. An acoustic guitar is great but plug it in and add the LAYERS of voice, drums, bass and maybe another voice or keyboard and you have killer sound.

It's what keeps me coming back for more, layers.

This applies to writing. A nursery rhyme is timeless but how often do you go back and reread them? They have a few lines a bit of rhythm. They are great for kids, but as we grow we want more. And as we grow the books we read grow too. They have more plot lines, characters and disasters.

So how does a writer get those layers?
    Strong Supporting Characters
To be honest I first thought of Harry Potter here. Harry is the main character but there are so many strong sub-characters. Hermione, Ron, Luna, Prof. Snape, Dumbledore etc... the list goes on. I'm sure you're naming others I didn't. But that's exactly the point, the story wasn't only about Harry. It was about how to be yourself no matter what others thought: Luna, fighting for equality: Hermione. And the characters goals should expand and grow in each book over the series. Give those supporting characters a character arc, and your readers will thank you.
    Relatable Emotion
Characters don't always have to look on the bright side, cup half full, stiff upper lip and all that, allow believable break downs, anger outbursts and an occasional case of the giggles. Readers often read to be drawn in, as a species who empathizes with each other, write-in moments for your reader to connect emotionally with your character.
    Multiple, Interwoven Plots
Allow multiple problems to come up at once. The huge geology presentation gone wrong, then a car accident all while fighting between friends. In real life problems don't take turns, they shouldn't in your book either.
    Believable Try/Fail Cycles
Try to really make your character suffer and not superman all the time, even the hero fails and the bad guy gains the upper hand. The fool can get it right and the damsel is the one doing the saving.
    Symbols and Motifs
A symbol is representative of something else and a motif is a repeated image or phrase. They can be either literal or symbolic. Think charging river symbolizing change, or a serene field as safety or peace.

As you write and rewrite, think about how you can pull your reader deeper into the layers of your story.


Donna K. Weaver said...

Oh, good stuff there. I wonder if I'm layered enough. I think sometimes I am.

Alice said...

good advice. I'm going to make sure I"m doing this in my stories.

Cathy said...

Great reminder. Thanks for the post.

Pam Williams said...

My professor in college called it "ontological density," but I like "layers" better. I think that's the only thing I remember from his class because it's so pretentious. It's fun to create supporting characters who play off the main character and give the piece an authentic feel. That's the joy of being a writer.

Renae W. Mackley said...

Layers are great. Hopefully we peel one away and still find more interesting stuff in our writing. Easier to say than do. Thanks for the post.