Whether it’s a short story or a novel, writers often go through several stages before writing “End” on the manuscript. I’m in the revision stage on my novel, having already gone through brainstorming, plotting, characterizations, and conflict building. The first draft is complete, and all the characters have assumed the roles I envisioned them fulfilling in this story. The main conflicts have been resolved, and the plot seems to follow a logical, though twisted, progression.
What I’m working on now is adding layers to the story to give it more depth and develop transitions between the scenes and chapters I’ve already written. Adding layers to the basic story serves several purposes:
1. Characters can be fleshed out so they become more realistic.
2. Foreshadowing can be inserted to give the reader clues about what lies ahead, so when events occur they make sense and seem believable.
3. Relationships can be strengthened or clarified so they are easier to understand.
4. Descriptions and sensory details can be expanded to make the setting more authentic.
5. Word choices can be refined to elicit the desired tone, and make the dialog more realistic.
Having a solid foundation to build upon is crucial, but adding in layers of subplots, exposition, and specific details can transform a basic plot into a complex, unique story. That’s the goal I’m working toward right now.
Edit December 8, 2009:
Agent Scott Eagan has a good post today on layering subplots to a enrich a story. He also stresses avoiding information dumps, and recommends layering in portions of the backstory throughout the manuscript. His blog is full of good tips on other topics, too. Check it out: http://scotteagan.blogspot.com/2009/12/reviewing-basics-good-practice.html
Edit November 1, 2012: Agent Scott Eagan’s post today gives insight into how to use the technique of layering effectively. Gave me an “aha moment.”
Do you work from a basic outline, have most of your plot points figured out in advance, or just start writing and see where it leads? How many revisions do you usually make before you’re satisfied with your stories? Do you add layers, or do you develop each aspect of the story as you write it?