Author Toolbox 4: Discover The Layers Of A Story

This post was written for the Author Toolbox Blog Hop where we share our new discoveries on the craft of writing, editing, querying, marketing, publishing, and blogging tips. Posted every third Wednesday of the month. For rules and sign-up click here.

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I call the writer that uses both plotting and pantsing a framer. I’m one of these people and it has made my writing life much better. It’s given me a chance to discover the layers of my story.

Plotter

I’ve already mentioned I outline (synopsis) the overall story. My thinking is simply: if I can tell the story in a coherent manner, I can sell it. Or that’s the theory. I make sure the tension rises, the plot holes are filled and all the little threads are tied up in a nice bow before I begin pantsing. The threads I leave hanging are because I like to imagine my characters carrying on. As if I popped in for an exciting part of their lives and popped out again. Who knows, maybe I’ll return at a later date.

Pantser

I break the outline into doable sections with specific directions of what needs to happen.

I let loose. The creative juices flow. They know what direction I’m going and how fast I have to get there. No doubt many of us do this part. hehehe.

It’s why we’re here, reading and learning new techniques.

Layers

During all of this I think about the layers of the story because to me there are a minimum of two. The one on top is the one the reader enjoys until they realize more is going on than just surface stuff.

I give every character an agenda. Their own goal and what they are willing to do to achieve it.

Where I start

I give several characters an overlapping background that I don’t give away so much as let them react to. For example, as kids someone’s parent ran over another’s cat and someone is not letting the memory go. Another possibility is someone was a no-show at the prom, leaving their date to go alone. When they meet again, it’s time for a confrontation.

The layers of the story is where the character connect/disconnect with each other. I like to write mysteries, so each one of my characters has motive to kill the victim. Each one of them has a reason to kill another cast member. Each one of them had opportunity and the means to kill the victim or each other.

Going Deeper

I write the underlayer before I let my creative writing loose. Then once I’ve written a few more chapters, I adapt my underlayer again and again. Until it guides me through the worse/best of them. Motivations become clear when each character has an agenda, feelings that drive them down only one road—it may be interrupted, but is never forgotten, and then I try to write the story I first outlined.

The surface may appear smooth. But like a duck, much of the action hides below the surface, churning up all kinds of fun and trouble.

Have you done this? Any tips for me?

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53 responses to “Author Toolbox 4: Discover The Layers Of A Story

  1. “The surface may appear smooth. But like a duck, much of the action hides below the surface, churning up all kinds of fun and trouble.” Love that! Great post 🙂

  2. I really like the thoughts and tips here. I’m going to remember the word “framer”. Letting someone’s background show up in their current actions is also a great way of avoiding telling or just having random information that has no bearing on the plot.

  3. It’s below the surface that adds that extra something for me. Your toolbox post makes everything seem so simple, though I know it isn’t.

    sherry @ fundinmental

  4. Enjoyed reading. I suppose I do some that just had applied those concepts to it. Food for thought. Thank you.

  5. I like the word “framer” as that describes me. I like to outline and plot but not to the degree that there are no surprises left.
    I also like writing the underlayer first. My next book is a perfect example of subtext and mystery. Is she insane or a time traveler? Using underlayers will deepen the mystery.

  6. I’m somewhere between a plotter and pantser. No matter how much I outline ahead of time, I always wind up changing things as I write, so I alternate between plotting and pantsing as I work my way through the story. Efficinet? Probably not.

  7. For this new novella I’m working on, I’m definitely doing more “plotting” than I usually do. It worked during last year’s NaNo, so fingers crossed! 🙂

  8. Framer? I’ve heard both plantser and plotser and frankly they’re both too silly for me. FRAMER is brilliant. I’mma steal it if that’s all right.

  9. Framer might be a better term for my process. Since I do all of my prewriting in my head. lol
    I have an idea for a world, and then I populate it with interesting people and watch them fight it out. (so whatever that’s called)

  10. I envy pansters. I could never do that.

  11. Love it! You always have such wisdom to share. 😉

  12. Great post, Anna! I like how you plan layered backgrounds for your characters that they can react to in your story. My MC is currently confronting a character she interacted with in the past, too!

  13. I’m more punster than plotter, but I do a rough plot before writing so I know roughly where I’m going and I will know very well who my protagonist is. From there the story develops somewhat out of my control 🙂 Great post!

  14. Good post Anna 🙂

  15. A new word for me today – framer. That’s how I write. I like your point about giving every character an agenda. This makes each one interesting. I’m going to check that I do that too.

  16. Thanks for sharing. I tend to be more of a pantser than you are. I also write mysteries. I find that if I don’t know who the killer is, my story is even better than when I go in knowing “who done it.” Indeed, though about half-way through the book, the end becomes clear. This, of course, makes editing quite a job–harder than the creation of the story.

    What you suggested when you said, “I write the underlayer before I let my creative writing loose. Then once I’ve written a few more chapters, I adapt my underlayer again and again. Until it guides me through the worse/best of them.” That sounds very much like what I do. The underlayer changes and changes… Finally everything makes sense. This, to me, is what makes creative writing hard and exciting at the same time.

  17. I really like how you weave characters together on some level . That’s why you are such a great mystery writer 🙂

  18. Love this! You’re right, the surface might appear to be smooth – but there should be something going on underneath. Thanks for sharing!

  19. “I give every character an agenda. Their own goal and what they are willing to do to achieve it.” <— this. I never really looked at plotting this way before. I need to remember to plot out my side character's goals explicitly next time! And for my revision. It will help with my depth for sure!

  20. Victoria Marie Lees

    Hello, Anna! This is my first time here. I’ll follow your blog and connect with you online.

    You’ve got excellent info here for writers. I’m a plotter, too. I need to know where I’m going. And going deep into the story stems from the why of what broils underneath what’s happening on the surface. Many, many layers to crafting a story. Thanks!
    http://victoriamarielees.blogspot.com

  21. I am definitely a framer as well (and I love that term). Great post. Although I don’t write mysteries if you take this…
    “… each one of my characters has motive to kill the victim. Each one of them has a reason to kill another cast member. Each one of them had opportunity and the means to kill the victim or each other.”
    and you make it generic to the conflict or goal of the main character it would be great to ensure a truly connected story where all your characters are critical and adding tension. I especially like the step of each character having a reason to kill (thwart) another cast member. Thanks for this!

  22. A Framer … I like that!

    Thanks for the tips.

  23. Such great terms in here! Framer, underlayer. Also, I like thinking in terms of overlapping background. Very interesting!

  24. Great tips here, thanks for sharing!

  25. I like the overlapping background idea. One thing I’ve tried to do is keep mentions of background connections brief & mostly unexplained in my main work but devote a short story to it instead.

  26. I totally blame the editors too. What would we do without them! I got so lost (in a fabulous way) reading those tips! Happy writing.

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