My Layered Writing Technique

We all have our own version of writing and editing. I tend to write and edit in layers, simply termed the layering technique. My work schedule forces me to limit my writing and editing time to nights and weekends and/or holidays. I have to be intentional with my time. For this reason, I trained myself to write in layers and lists.

I write a skeleton draft, layer up, then make lists of what else I need to do, change, and edit. In many ways, I will pants my skeleton and plot my flesh. Basically, I know WHAT I want to write and the premise of the story, but in order to build it up with depth and twists and details, I will need to better organize the structure.

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Photo by Christa Dodoo on Unsplash

Here’s my step-by-step method:

Step 1: When I draft, I write a skeleton draft, just to get the entire story out of my head. Sometimes I know the beginning and the end, but not the middle. And at all times, I’m drafting with chunky holes. I try not to linger around these holes for too long because it will bog me down in my drafting. Instead, my drafts will have bolded reminders such as:

  • DIALOGUE – CHARACTERS TALK ABOUT SOMETHING SIGNIFICANT
  • SETTING – DESCRIBE WHATS AROUND
  • ACTION – SOMEONE DIES HERE
  • FAILURE – CHARACTER DOES SOMETHING TO MESS UP
  • HOOK – FIGURE OUT A BETTER CHAPTER HOOK
  • GROWTH – CHARACTER CHANGES SOMEHOW
  • SENSES – DESCRIBE ONE OR MORE OF 5 SENSES
  • MORE – NEED MORE HERE DUNNO WHAT

I try to be nice, but sometimes I scold myself in my own edits and comments. It’s okay, I usually forgive myself later when I get the writing the way I want it.

Step 2: I create a spreadsheet outline per chapter and organize major scenes on notecards. This is my version of plotting. I have combined the story structure with the character growth arc along with the chapter by chapter plot points. I am a big picture sort of person and need to see everything in one place. You can download a template of my spreadsheet and maybe you will find it helpful in your writing process. Manuscript Chapter Outline Template.

Here are some helpful resources for the character’s journey and the plot structure:

Hero’s Journey

Writers Helping Writers Printable Writing Tools

Step 3: Next, I will do another drafting pass to fill in the holes and expand the setting, the atmosphere, the characters, etc. My goal is to get rid of those bolded holes I listed in Step 1.

Step 4: Send to a Critique Partner and take a break. I spend this time away from the story. Maybe I jot down notes here and there, but mostly, I want another set of eyes in the early stages to help me with the direction of my story.

Step 5: Once I hear back from my CP, there’s more revisions, structuring, and eliminating crutch/filter words. Here’s a list of typical Crutch Words.

Step 6: I send out my story to a first round of beta readers and repeat Step 5, then repeat Step 6, before moving on to the querying stage.

Honestly, I never feel like my manuscript is done and I can always improve my story, edit more, and change things. You have to be open to change.

Good luck with your writing and editing endeavors!

Quick note: I write in Google Docs and have not tried Scrivener.

Story Structure: Utilizing the Hero’s Journey

A little over year ago I queried my second manuscript for the first time. After receiving rejection after rejection after rejection, I decided to reevaluate my submission package and my story itself. It got to a point where I questioned my writing, especially wondering if it was time to shelve this manuscript.

I realized I needed to go deeper in my feedback and the desire for answers drove me to hire a freelance editor for the first time. The editor did a phenomenal critique of my submission package and a full read of my manuscript. I received encouraging yet constructive notes. She pointed out that my major problem was the flow of the story. All the pieces were there, but in the wrong order! 

I spent the next ten months gutting and overhauling my manuscript. Out of her recommendation, I utilized the Hero’s Journey format. Not only did it greatly improve my story, but it boosted my characters’ motives, tension, and goals.

THE HERO’S JOURNEY is a pattern of narrative identified by the American scholar Joseph Campbell. The 12 stages are listed below and you can find details for each on the website here.

  1. The Ordinary World
  2. The Call to Adventure
  3. The Refusal of the Call
  4. Meeting with the Mentor
  5. Crossing the Threshold
  6. Tests, Allies, and Enemies
  7. Approach
  8. The Ordeal
  9. The Reward
  10. The Road Back
  11. The Resurrection
  12. Return with the Elixir

Through this process, I also learned that I wrote my story as a pantser, which means I didn’t plan anything. However, during this process, I developed a simple spreadsheet to help me track my Hero’s Journey. I have it available for your download and use here:

Chapter Plot Outline – Hero’s Journey

After having overhauled this manuscript in 2017, I pitched live for the first time that fall, sent in several requested pages, and participated in Twitter pitches. I still believe in this story and hope one day the stars will align for my publishing journey.

Also, quick shout out and thank you to Lyla Lawless and her incredible editing!