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Saturday, May 7, 2011

CRAFT: Editing Your Manuscript - Layering

You've finished your manuscript and set it aside for a couple of months. What now?

Well, editing is a good first step. There are a lot of techniques you can use to polish and primp your manuscript in preparation for submission to an agent or editor.

Recently on one of my writing e-loops we discussed the technique of layering. Several of us came up with differing interpretations of what it meant. For me it involves a couple of things.
  1. Deeper POV (point of view) - can I add anything to the text to get me deeper inside the character's point of view?
  2. Sentence structure - can I restructure/add/delete/rephrase a sentence to give it more depth?
How do I do that? Well, here are a couple of examples taken from my WIP (work in progress). I'll tackle sentence structure first then deeper POV.

Sentence Structure
(unlayered sample for setting)
He scanned the clearing ahead. A large tree had fallen across it. It's bark was weathered and scarred. An animal trail ran alongside it but no tracks marked it. He hadn't expected any, not with this warrior. He was too cunning.

(layered sample)

With eyes narrowed he scanned the sunlit dappled clearing ahead. A large fallen tree lay partway across it, years of rot and weathering scarring its gnarled length. An animal trail paralleled the downed tree but the debris along its path was undisturbed, the moss coating its bark intact. He hadn’t expected to see any telltale marks or tracks, the warrior was cunning and unpredictable, moreso with the pressure of being hunted by half a dozen Na’Chi.

*This is more about sentence restructuring and adding description to give it depth. The first example is character, setting description, setting description, setting description, character. Pretty straight forward.

The second example tries to tie both together, so you're getting it through the characters eyes (POV) and there's added description (adjectives) and the sentence structure is more complex.

Deeper POV
(unlayered sample)
Varian stood there, a strange feeling curling in his gut. He shook his head. The yearning made him ache and he craved it with a hunger so powerful it terrified him.
He wanted to pull away. He couldn't. He ground his teeth together.

*You can see the character wants something, a little about how he reacts to it. A lot of the sentences are pretty "standard", and the sentence construction very straight forward.

(layered sample)
Varian stood there feeling peculiar, an uncertain warmth curling in his gut even as he shook his head. A part of him wanted to laugh in disdain at the idea, but another, more selfish part coveted every word.
The yearning made him ache. Made him crave with a hunger so powerful it terrified him. He wanted to pull away, break the physical connection so he could unravel the thread tying her words to his soul.

He couldn’t.

He ground his teeth together, hating that he could be so weak.

*Can you see how much more we get "into" Varian's thoughts/head with this version. There's much more depth to how he reacts and what he's thinking (hopefully this pulls you deeper into his character).

The sentence structure is also more complex and takes away the "standard" feel by adding that little more description.

Also check out the physical paragraphing. Sometimes that can also add emphasis to the scene. Instead of running the last two sentences onto the back of the second paragraph, I gave them each one of their own. I wanted to emphasis what the hero was feeling - doing it sort of adds invisible exclamation marks, mental pauses, and emphasis to what he's experiencing.

One of the best ways to see this layering effect at work is to pick out one of your favourite authors and analyse a paragraph or page of their work.

Deconstruct it. Look at how they structure their sentences, how they described physical reactions, emotional reactions, comparisons etc. then add some zing to a scene of your own.

Experiment (just don't forget to cut and paste your experiment into a new document rather than work on your original version).

So, there you have it. That's my interpretation of layering. Here ends the lesson. Any questions? :-)

# Picture from http://fantasyartdesign.com/"> Fantasy Art 3D Wallpapers, digital art modern online gallery.


  1. Wow, thank you so much for sharing this constructive lesson, Kylie. This will be invaluable to me in the future. I'm totally bookmarking this page. =D
    Thanks so much, once again.


  2. Tana, sounds like you needed this at the right time in your writing journey. Glad this post helped.

  3. Thanks Kylie for sharing this informative post.

    Margaret Midwood

  4. Thanks for this. I found it helpful.I will watch for sentences that need thickening. Ken K. Chartrand

  5. Excellent, Kylie, thank you!

  6. Always a pleasure to help another writer or three. :-)

  7. Hi Kylie,
    nice post! And I'm thinking a great little article for HT =)

  8. Wondering what credentials you have beside one published novel. I'm aspiring to be published but not sure whose advie to follow.

  9. Thanks for the great post, Kylie.
    And I agree it would make a great article for HT.
    Layering is like icing a cake - so easy to add too much or too little...
    Excellent examples BTW

  10. Hi, Anonymous, yes, I'm a debut author (come Feb.2012). I haven't received a degree in creative arts or literature if that's what you're asking. I have published interviews and articles like this in several magazines, all romance writers magazines.

    A lot of my "experience" come from attending writing conferences (going on 12 years now), being mentored by multi-published authors, entering numerous competitions here in Australia and internationally, judging the same, lots of professional reading, receiving feedback from agents and editors, and good old trial and error. So, you could say my skills are self-taught but with the guidance of numerous people and resources.

    If you're looking for advice, the best I can give you is - join a writing organisation (like Romance Writers of Australia - http://www.romanceaustralia.com/) where you can tap into the wealth of knowledge and resources brought to the group by its members. There are sister organisations in New Zealand and America (http://www.romancewriters.co.nz/ AND http://www.rwa.org/ )

    The "How to..." advice I share on my blog may help you, or it may not. Take what's useful, leave the rest.

    Happy to answer any questions you might have off line if you'd like to email me - kyliegriffin71 (at) optusnet (dot) com (dot) au

    Keep writing! :-)

  11. Hi, Mel, now there's an idea! ;-)

    Carol, I'm glad you found the examples useful! I'm sure though I could improve on them again given enough time! LOL