Use Layers in Your Writing to Meld Spontaneity and Planning

Often us writers want to create a perfect chapter right out of the gate. But this just isn’t practical. Using layers in your writing can add that spark of spontaneity pansters crave, while still keeping the plotter side of us satisfied.

While researching this particular idea, layering narrative writing, I came across so many methods with formulaic solutions. Apply so much of X here and then add in your Y. It crushed any idea of creativity a writer would have. 

Here are three quick things you can do to get more pages written using layering.

Think of Sketching Your Plot

The original idea behind layered writing is the way European painters would layer oil paints up to create a vivid picture. However, this leads people into thinking it has to be a long and arduous process with many layers piled on top of each other. 

A better analogy would be to sketch out the plot the same way an illustrator or animator sketches the action for a scene. When creating a movie, Disney  won’t start at minute one and start drawing the final product. They will sketch or use computer key frames to model the action. 

I know what you panters are thinking — this sounds suspiciously like outlining. 

Take It One Chapter at a Time

To layer (or sketch) your writing you don’t have to plot out the whole novel first. Instead, think smaller like individual chapters or scenes. A rough sketch of what will happen won’t crush your creativity simply because the unit of time is so small.

In fact, I would argue it allows the characters to better voice themselves in the story. When we’re deep in the trenches of description and action, sometimes it’s hard to take a step back and get a bird’s eye view of what’s going on. We use our “plot” to guide us and hope everything will turn out all right. 

By sketching out the major points of the scene, there’s more room for our characters to be heard. I actually had a chapter shift tact in a much different direction because one character refused to do what the “plot” wanted. 

And we’re not talking about pages here. A scene sketch can be be anywhere from a single page to nine or ten (I handwrite and burn through pages with my clumsy scrawl).

Start with One Element

Pick an important element, like dialogue or action beats, and just sketch out what the chapter looks like with just that. I will sometimes jot down shorthand for what else I want: character reaction, emotional response, pauses, etc.

The goal with the sketch or layered method is that it overcomes the blank-page syndrome. We all know the trepidation of staring at the blank page. But there are certainly bits of action of dialogue swirling around in your head. Jotting them down on paper can be a good start. 

And now, our page isn’t blank.

You can opt to keep adding layers (elements like action, thoughts, emotion, description) or after your first pass you can just dive in and start writing. Using this process cut my writing time in half.

The goal for us writers, after all, is to get those words down on the page. Whether you’re a pure pantser or a dedicated plotter, sketching your chapter before you write can save time and allow for greater spontaneity in your work.

Tim Kane

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