Today’s guest blog post, on the topic of the craft of writing, is brought to you by M J Moores.
Layering as a Technique for Building Depth
by M.J. Moores, OCT. Author. Editor. Freelance Writer.
But what does that really mean? How can we, as writers, craft that vital connection?
Personally, I find it incredibly taxing to even consider developing that kind of depth in my first draft – characters, setting, and action aren’t fully calculated until my plot is hammered out… even if it’s a character-driven plot. As a planner, you’d think I’d have it all figured out before I let the story flow – but what’s the fun in doing that? Sure, I’ll plan out specific moments that are intrinsic to the story but otherwise my plotting is a sketch or outline of events and revelations that look one way when I start writing and morph as I go along. So, like a pantser, I require several drafts to clean up all that red on the page (and nobody likes to be in the red). I do this in a multi-layer way I like to call the taco technique.
There’s the five layer taco with your ground beef, salsa, cheese, sour cream and onion and then there’s your seven layer taco with all the above and refried beans with any combination of fresh veggies (or fruit) to make it your own. The writing taco technique has six layers: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, mystery (that sixth sense that’s often referred to as the inner-eye).
So, the meal is pretty straightforward but to really make it your own you need that mystery spice.
After the first draft, I re-read what I’ve written looking for where I’m lacking with sound and touch or texture. I only focus on two senses at a time, and rarely do I look at sight – that’s how most writers tend to get across what’s happening in the first place. I look at two senses at a time because I find it overwhelming to do all five at once and if I’m going to single out one of them it’ll be the sixth one, due to its illusive and changing nature.
The reason for reading draft one with a specific goal in mind is to train your thought patterns into recognizing when something is missing or could be improved with the use of another sense. This is pretty straight forward and recognizable by most writers as imperative to bringing a sense of reality for that emotional connection between reader and story.
Not many writers use the mystery spice. Use of the main five senses will dramatically improve the depth of anyone’s writing as long as it’s not overdone – the right sense in the right place to achieve the right effect. What sets the crafters apart from the storytellers is mystery.
So, what is mystery and how do you use it?
Simply put, mystery is making sure there is always at least one unanswered element in your characters, your setting, and your plot at all times. I like my characters to have a lot of mystery – too much back story drags down the plot and just because I’ve laboured over the whys of any given character’s behaviour doesn’t mean I have to tell my readers about it. In fact, most of that backstory will be cut and rearranged as mystery instead.
By providing hints and clues to the whys of any of the three aspects mentioned, you are layering in suspense and tension. People will read on because they want to learn more. They want to see if they can solve the mystery by using the clues you leave about personality, location, and action. By letting them use their inner-eye in this way, you are inviting them to be a part of the story instead of merely reading it – and that is one of the hardest aspects of our craft to learn.
As with any dish I make, it never turns out perfect the first time – even if I follow the recipe exactly. My palate is different than yours and it’s definitely different than the chef who designed the dish. That translates into the fact that the amount of mystery and the particular balance in the use of the other five senses will be different for every writer and every genre. It’s up to you to learn what compliments your main meal best.
When cooking up a manuscript, how do you like to add in your ingredients?
Thank you, Melissa.
Growing up in Ontario, Canada, M.J. was the only child of a single mom. Her passion for the arts ignited at a young age as she wrote adventure stories and read them aloud to close family and friends. The dramatic arts became a focus in high school as an aid to understanding character motivation in her writing. Majoring in Theatre Production at York University, with a minor in English, she went on to teach both elementary and high school for 10 years throughout Simcoe County.
M.J. currently lives with her husband and young son in Caledon, Ontario. She keeps busy these days with her emerging authors’ website Infinite Pathways: hosting writing contests, providing editing services, free publicity tips, book reviews, and opportunities for authors to build their writing platform and portfolio. In addition she writes articles and edits freelance as she continues her own creative writing working toward completing the next book in the Chronicles Series. Time’s Tempest: The Chronicles of Xannia (1) is M.J.’s debut science fiction novel. She firmly believes that if she hadn’t been born a Virgo, she wouldn’t be half as organized as she needs to be to get everything done from one day to the next.
Time’s Tempest – The Chronicles of Xannia (1)
Taya: A loyal and dedicated government contractor extraordinaire, learns of the fate of the planet while on a top-secret job working as a lab tech for a disreputed scientist.
Dezmind: A Talian government dissenter who claims the only way to save their dying world is to trust a set of ancient documents lost long ago in the forbidding Deserts.
Zaith: A reporter covering the story of a lifetime following a lead that could mean more than breaking the biggest story to hit the planet since the Nine Seas Massacre.
Fate, destiny and truth collide with 2000-year-old secrets the government will do anything to keep buried. When Taya is forced to accept a contract that will be a death sentence for anyone involved, she unwittingly becomes a catalyst in a game she never wanted to play. As she leads a false prophet and his followers on a mission doomed from the start, she learns far more about herself and her world than she ever thought possible.
- Amazon (e-book): http://www.amazon.com/Times-Tempest-Chronicles-Xannia-Book-ebook/dp/B00NLM7ERG
- Amazon (print): http://www.amazon.com/Times-Tempest-Chronicles-Xannia-Volume/dp/0992883687
- and from this blog, my guests who have written on the craft of writing are… Aileen Gibb, Allison Foster, Andre Cruz, Ben Russel, Benjamin Cohen, FM Meredith, Graham Smith 1, Graham Smith 2, Ian Miller, Ira Nayman, Jane Wenham-Jones 1, Jane Wenham-Jones 2, João Cerqueira, Jemma Hayes, Jerry Last, J Griffith Mitchell, John Vorhaus, Maria Castle, Melodie Campbell, Marion Grace Woolley, Melodie Campbell, Morgan St James, Morgen Bailey(essentials), Morgen Bailey (rituals), Morgen Bailey (negatives), Morgen Bailey (writing tips), Nathan Weaver, Patrick Swimmerly, Paul Lell part 1, Paul Lell part 2, PJ Nunn, Quentin Bates, Rita Plush, Roger Hurn, Samantha Gray, Sherry Gloag, SJ Wardell, Stefan Bolz, Sue Welfare, Tracy Kauffman, and VM Gopaul.
If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. Guidelines on guest-blogs. There are other options listed on opportunities-on-this-blog.
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If you would like to send me a book review of another author’s books or like your book reviewed (short stories, contemporary crime / women’s novels or writing guides), see book-reviews for the guidelines. Other options listed on opportunities-on-this-blog. And I post writing exercises every weekday on four online writing groups.