One of the things I learned writing my last project was layering it. Like when you’re at a party and want that seven layer taco bean dip thing that is the ultimate dip to end all dips. In stories the layers don’t come together on the first try, though. Sometimes they don’t all come together even by the third or fourth try.
Layering a story gives it depth and width. Layering a story makes the story, the characters, and the world its in feel real, that make it come to life. Literary bean dip, if you will.
My layers only started coming together as a cohesive whole after countless rewrites where each one was dedicated to rewriting a separate issue, whether it was character backstory, seeding in world events the characters didn’t see but still affected the narrative, deciding on the laws of magic and science that governed world physics, developing the different cultures coming into contact with each other, etc. All of those affect the overall flavor and texture of the story bean dip, and it took time to work on each one to make it the best layer it could be to service the story, and to smooth it into the overall narrative with the other layers.
One of the best things I did for my story during this stage was actually step away from it for a while. If you stay inside a story too long you can’t see the forest for the trees, and it’s easy to get lost following tangents deeper into the wilderness. So I stopped working on it for a bit and I read. And I watched Netflix. I’m incapable of turning off my writer brain, so when I was learning about everyday life in 18th century America and watching documentaries and movies about the Alamo and the Civil War and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, I was taking in the information about the culture, the world, and the events that shaped the technology of the day. I had a bird’s eye perspective of how those different parts came together and affected the people of the day, which in turn helped me pull away from my story and take in the world as a whole.
When I went back to the page, with all that new information churning in my mind, I could see the separate layers of my story and figured out how to better combine them. Because A affects B which causes C and D that leads to E and causes F, and so on down the alphabetical metaphor.
Keeping all this information in one place is hard for me. I tend to write mini essays on the stuff that goes on in my story worlds that contributes to the narrative, but I also keep part of it in my head so nothing is ever all in one physical place. Probably not the smartest thing, but sometimes there is just too much in my brain to translate, and so I do what I can and then go away and think about what was written and what’s still upstairs and spend a couple hours looking at research and inspiration material, which ends up transforming and furthering everything anyway.
It’s a mess, but it works for me.
And so far it’s seemed to work for the beta readers going over the story, which was the entire end game.
Overall, I think my best advice for anyone else having trouble with this is to work at it when you can, step back when you’re stuck, and let yourself explore other mediums so your writer brain can pick them apart like the scavenger it is for what your story needs.
And then you’ll have your own heaping bowl of multilayered literary dip to share with everyone else.
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