Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What is "layering?" -- writing tip.

Question from the e-mail: Someone in my writers' group mentioned "layering" as a technique. I never heard the term before, can you tell me what they meant?

Answer: Sometimes, I use a method I call "layering." I'm sure this isn't a technique original to me and believe that many writers may work in this fashion. Didn't know anyone else used the term, but then when I taught at the correspondence school I carried an average student load of 500 over the 15 years I worked there. So, I have a lot of ex-students who might have gone on to call it that, too, for want of a better name.

I write in layers, concentrating on one thing at a time and going through the material several times with a single objective in mind. This method works for me and it worked for some of my students. My usual practice is to write the first draft hot -- slash and burn straight through to the end of the story -- not stopping for anything. No rewriting until the first draft is DONE.

Some writers see the action "like a movie" in their head. Some are auditory. I tend to "hear" my characters, so I know my images in first draft are weak. First thing, I go back and layer in every image I can think of. I'm only working on images at this point. Show, show, show, show, show!

By the time I've finished that, I discover that I've added a lot of the "over-explanation" that seems to plague my work. Then I go back again and cut prepositional phrases. I search for: and, to, of, because, but; for, and any other prepositions and make certain that I need BOTH bits of information. If, as often happens with me, I've said the same thing two ways, then I cut one prepositional phrase.

Then I go back again and rewrite the transitions, and end of scene hooks, to make sure I've not left out anything important. The transition (opening sentence of a scene) must ALWAYS contain the who, where, and when, and I remind myself, when checking these, that the viewpoint character Must be mentioned First. The end-of-scene hook should leave the reader with a question that will be answered later in the story.

For my final layer, I look for anything that can be left out of dialogue. In real life if someone says, "Where did you get that hat?" Someone else will say, "Why? What's wrong with it?" But in dialogue, the answer should be, "Macy's." Sometimes I have a real tendency to let characters talk on and on when they should be saying, "Macy's." So for this layer, I tighten things up.

I have a one-track mind and sometimes it jumps the track. I can't think of everything all at once. Thank goodness, in writing, we don't have to.

Sure it would be nice if everything came out perfect in the first draft. That may happen with some writers, who knows? But it sure doesn't happen with me. So I use "layering" to fix it.

The good news is, as Anne LaMotte is fond of reminding us, no matter how execreble a first draft is, once we have that one down, we can fix it.