How To Write Better Stories: Layering

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So… Not the beat this J. K. Rowling thing to death, but…

You have to ask yourself: if you were going to write a story like Harry Potter, how would you do it?

First you have to come up with an idea. A boy is a wizard; let’s go have fun in the magic world.

Then you get to create the pre-story of how did the boy become a wizard? Or was he always one because that’s just a line of the human race and he just didn’t know. (Making him not know is more interesting.)

Giving him a mean uncle is more interesting…

But what you do, at least what I would think you would do, is write your outline or write your basic story – and then let it rest.

And while it’s resting, you are thinking about how you can add layers. How you can throw more rocks at your characters. So let’s make him an orphan. That creates sympathy. Make him Cinderella, with a wicked uncle instead of wicked stepsisters, and make him do all the work. Lock them away like they did Cinderella – but put him… under the stairs. That’s cruel and humiliating = more potential sympathy. (BTW, my character who was punished by being locked under the stairs in The Water Castle, I thought of that before I read or saw any Harry Potter stuff. Just sayin’. I think Allison will back me up on that.)

Let him get picked on and teased and bullied at school – by his cousin/Cinderella’s stepsisters.

That part’s fine.

Another layer… is creating a different vocabulary.

Tolkien did that with Lord Of The Rings, and before that Edgar Rice Burroughs did it for Tarzan (Burroughs made up an entire ape language and even had an english-to-ape dictionary in the back of the book). The writers of the Star Trek created Klingon language.

Another layer would be to have names for the different types of characters in this world.  Muggles. Stuff like that. Tolkien did that, too.

As of the writing of this post, around mid-November 2016, I had yet to read an interview by J. K. Rowling, but I intend to do a lot of reading of them when I am done reading her book series. And watching her movies.

And it won’t surprise me to see what her influences were, if she knows them. Or if she mentions them. (12/21/2016 Update: Here’s a Wiki link that addresses her acknowledged influences; not sure it’s vailidity but it’s a start. Here’s one by EW.)

Personally, I’m a big believer in not letting the audience know the magic trick.

Or as Hemingway said, “It’s none of their business that you have to learn how to write. Let them think you were born that way.” So I might tell them I had influences other than what I did, but…

odds are even if I tell people what to do, they can’t do it – so where is the harm?

That’s not meant to sound arrogant. It’s hard work, and most people aren’t up to the task. With some, maybe they can do it, but they won’t. They know better. Or they believe differently.

I’ve just told you a trick. (Please tell me a trick from time to time.)

Anyway, let your story rest while you think about it, that’s what gives you the ability to add layers. If you can think of those layers while you are writing it, so much the better. I have no insight into what Rowling did, I’m just providing a compass for you if you were trying to do something along those lines.

And it doesn’t have to be a wizard boy and a magical world. It could be a horror story. It could be a romance. Adding layers is what makes every story interesting. Layers and hidden meanings.

Creating a new world and adding those layers and it is more challenging, but I think it’s the same process. And I’ve done it in everything I’ve ever written, so that’s how I do it!

22 thoughts on “How To Write Better Stories: Layering

        • Oh god yes.

          What you do is, while you are resting you are thinking about different ways to make the plot more interesting.

          Then, when you begin to read it again, anything you don’t read in detail, anything your eyes begin to want to skip, highlight that in yellow. That is a place to trim. Also, ask critique partners where the slow parts are. If they are good and honest they will tell you.

          It’s an art like anything else because some things you need to go into detail and your critique partner won’t know until the end/ final chapter, so they may recommend trimming something that needs to be left alone, but you get a feel for it as you go.

          Liked by 1 person

  1. I just found this. What do you think.

    Parallelism is my personal favorite story element. Why? Because parallelism makes light bulbs go off. Here’s a prime example: in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, we’re told the Tale of the Three Brothers. The first brother died for power, the second died for lost love, and the third greeted death like an old friend. Well, look at the Second War. Voldemort sought ultimate power and died as a result. Snape died for lost love (Lily Potter died at Voldemort’s hand). Harry walked into the forest, ready to die, ready to greet death for the benefit of all.

    Parallelism can also be between events, characters, settings, and dialogue. There is no limit. You can easily foreshadow something using parallelism if you an event early on that leads to a similar point later in the story. Readers will be able to analyze events and make connections to other parts of the story. Because parallelism allows for so much flexibility in the plot, you can weave multiple events together.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I recently came across a real event from the past that I thought would form the basis for a great story. Researching it I discovered that Jack London has already done that. It won’t stop me writing my own version before I read the master’s. I already have ideas about the layers and parallels I can weave into it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Awesome. You know, there’s nothing that says Jack London didn’t borrow a similar theme from somebody else, maybe Shakespeare or Homer or somebody. As long as yours is different and not terribly similar, who would notice or care?


  3. I think adding layers is something that is insanely easy for me. I just let my mind wander around while I am walking in the street and figure out an entire life and dark past of that character. How they would behave with another character with a conflicting personality. My best friend has been begging me mercilessly to write a short story of Damantin (his favorite character from my book series) because I mention he has an insanely rich but still heavily unknown backstory of when he grew up in exile.

    Damantin is the character I love to write about the most and it would be awesome to have him grumbling & complaining in uncomfortable silence everytime he has the bad luck of hanging around with the mentally unstable Tioja. I have been unfortunately very busy with personal things but I’m certain I’m going to enjoy writing that book very much. People that haven’t read any other books from my series might enjoy it because Damantin is such a fascinating character.

    I think putting two characters with such opposing personalities to team up together always causes a lot of juicy conflict. I just get bored to death writing scenes where everyone gets along.

    Liked by 1 person

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