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.
- Deeper POV (point of view) - can I add anything to the text to get me deeper inside the character's point of view?
- Sentence structure - can I restructure/add/delete/rephrase a sentence to give it more depth?
(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.
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.
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.
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 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? :-)
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