Layering Important Details into your Novel

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I’ve heard of authors who tweak their story as they write it, taking the time to get every word down just right so that by the time they write “The End”, they’re pretty much done. If you’re one of those writers, I envy you. I don’t do that. Instead I spew out my first draft and hope to hell I can fix it when I get to the dreaded “E” stage (that dirty word: Editing).

For those of you like me, I’m talking today about what we can do to get that first draft into publish-worthy format. (For extra help, check out the Workshop “The Art of Layering: From First Draft to Final Manuscript” given by Renee Ryan at RWA’s 2009 conference). Here are a few of the things I automatically do when revising a manuscript:

  • Add Emotion

It’s hard for me to properly portray what a character is feeling in my first draft. I’ll do my best but I always know it’s going to fall a bit flat. This is an automatic fix when I’m revising that first draft. I’ll add some actions and sentences meant to strengthen the emotion, and will change weaker words to those that automatically portray more emotion (“walked” will become “stomped” or “stalked”; “looked” will become “glared” or “gazed”).

  • Layer in 5 Senses

We’ve all heard about using the 5 senses in writing. This helps bring the world to life and makes your reader feel like they are in the middle of the story. I’m bad about writing the sense of smell into my first draft, and I know it. So once my first draft is done, I’ll do a ‘5-sense’ check for each scene, layering in use of the senses where needed.

  • Add Subtext

With every scene, there are always things going on beneath the surface. It’s those layers of subtext that add depth and richness to the story. This is something you can’t always get down on the first draft. Maybe the hero and heroine will argue over something minor, but subconsciously there is another issue at heart. Or the heroine leads the hero to believe she thinks he’s a major asshole, when what she really thinks is he’s a danger to her heart. Or an object is used as a metaphor for one of the characters or the relationship.

  • Add Movement

My first drafts look something like this:

She looked over at him.


He cocked a brow.

Nothing wrong with those sentences, but that tends to be most of what they do throughout the entire novel. Once I’ve finished that first draft, I go back in and revise these movements. By then I’ve got a better idea of the characters’ internal motivations for each scene, so I can add movement that mirrors that internal motivation, even if it’s in opposition to what they say.

What are some of the things you do to complete your manuscript once you’ve finished the rough draft? Or if you work your story as you go along, please tell me, how do you do it? Smile


15 thoughts on “Layering Important Details into your Novel

    Terry Spear said:
    January 24, 2011 at 8:20 am

    Hi, Rosalie, Great post! I layer as I go along. I get stumped on the mss and so stop, reread earlier sections, and add more details. Part of the reason I do this is I’ll get to the end of the mss, and have my word count, but if I start layering, which I have to do, it ends up being 127,000 words instead of 100K. So I’ve learned to edit as I go. 🙂 It’s fun too, makes the scenes come alive while I’m writing. 🙂

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      January 24, 2011 at 8:32 am

      You know Terry, that’s such a great point. The first craptastic manuscript I completed came in under word count. I remember being so worried about that. Once I completed the second, which was also under word count, I realized that was actually a good thing. After I was done editing, I was firmly within my word count. There’s a lot that goes on in that editing phase. This is really where a book is ‘born’, at least a publishable one. 😉

    kayspringsteen said:
    January 24, 2011 at 8:23 am

    I write in layers – often going back 2-1 chapters to add those layers. This helps me keep up with the editing but also keeps me in touch with the story. It helps keep details straight, too. Love your posts-you have great insight and share the best information!

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      January 24, 2011 at 8:34 am

      Thanks Kay.

      Wow, two of you who go back as you write! I wish I could do that. I think it would make things easier in the end. But it disrupts the flow of my creativity too much. I do jot down notes as I write, and occasionally something will come to me I can’t ignore, so I’ll go back to add that in.

        kayspringsteen said:
        January 24, 2011 at 8:59 am

        Going back as I write is especially helpful as I get stuck or blocked. But I also do a full-read edit before I even consider sending the work to my crit partners, let alone submission.

    Stacy McKitrick said:
    January 24, 2011 at 8:54 am

    Okay – make that three who edit as they write. I don’t edit a lot, but I usually go back and re-read what I wrote the day before. Not only to get me back into the story, but to add the things I missed the first time (or make note of what is needed, like more description).

    But I’m like you regarding emotion. That usually doesn’t get fixed in the first draft. I think I have to get through the whole book first before I can enhance it with emotion. So while my goal is around 100,000 words, I know my first draft will fall short of that because I ALWAYS add words when I edit (my descriptions and emotions are always lacking).

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      January 24, 2011 at 8:59 am

      Wow! Actually, I suppose I do something similar. I do reread a good portion of what I earlier wrote (mostly to get myself back into the scene) and I do add some things in there, but never things like more emotion or scene choreography. To me that’s automatic second-draft stuff.

    Nina Pierce said:
    January 24, 2011 at 11:15 am

    Rosalie – I’m one of those authors who bleeds on to the page. I used to wonder what people were talking about when they said third and fourth draft. I thought I was doing something wrong when I just re-read then submitted. But now I realize every writer is different in their process.

    One of these days I’m going to learn how to spew and hell and be damned if it isn’t perfect…I’ll edit later. I admire writers who can do just that. I guess we all want something we don’t have.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      January 24, 2011 at 3:12 pm

      I guess the grass is always greener, Nina. Bottom line is writing a novel is damned hard, no matter which way its done. 🙂

    Ciara Knight said:
    January 24, 2011 at 1:46 pm

    I’ve struggled with editing in the past, but I recently participated in an event at Savvy Authors that helped. EditPalooza broke down a two pass edit system. I’m on the second pass now.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      January 24, 2011 at 3:13 pm

      Really, Ciara? I heard of EditPalooza. I’m glad it’s worked for you. Maybe I should check it out when (if) it comes round again…

    Julia Rachel Barrett said:
    January 24, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    I layer as I go – rewrite as I go – some days I wish I could just type out a first draft and then go back to revise and edit, but apparently that’s not how my brain works.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      January 24, 2011 at 3:13 pm

      That’s so funny. I’m quite opposite, and yes, I wish I could be different.

    Bianca Swan said:
    January 26, 2011 at 10:18 am

    My favorite would have to be Bill and Sookie on True Blood. I never though I’d get hooked on this but I did. Enjoyed your post and pointers.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      January 26, 2011 at 12:25 pm

      I love True Blood too, but I’m more into Sookie and Eric, especially when they had that first kiss last season. Whew!

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