You’re writing short stories, or novels, and you want to make your fiction powerful. Plotting fiction is the key, not only to happy readers, but also to more book sales.
If readers love your story, they’ll buy other stories you’ve written. They may even become fans. One way create richer, more powerful fiction is by layering.
Plots, subplots, and layers — what’s the difference?
Your plot’s what happens in your story. A subplot is what happens to one character, who’s not your lead character. A subplot is a little story within a story. A layer’s a plot strand for your lead character.
Let’s see how layering works.
You’re writing a mystery novel. Here’s the basic plot… On a Sunday afternoon, the body of a woman was discovered by the side of the road, a few miles out of a small town.
Since the town’s so small, everyone soon knows that the body’s that of Tiffany, the beauty salon owner.
Your lead character’s a homicide detective, Jane, who’s divorced and is raising her daughter. Your primary plot involves Jane solving Tiffany’s murder. You’ve got a subplot: the story of Kelly, Jane’s young daughter. Kelly’s just turned 14, and wants to live with her father. She resents the restrictions that her mother places on her.
So your lead character, Jane, has three plot layers:
- The investigation into the murder of Tiffany, on which she’s the lead investigator;
- Jane’s worsening relationship with her daughter, Kelly. Jane struggles with guilt — she knows spends more time at work than she should, if she wants to be a good mother. Kelly told her mother she that she’s more interested in her job, than she is in her own daughter;
- Jane’s also dealing with resentment from one of her colleagues. He resents the fact that she was promoted over him. She has to decide what to do about him. He’s undermining her authority. The colleague’s taunting her about a decade-old case. Jane doesn’t want that case reopened. (This “old case” strand has the potential to become yet another layer, if you want to create four layers.)
Plot layers create richer stories, and multi-dimensional characters
If you use the plotting process in Hot Plots, you’ll develop plot layers naturally. I prefer this method of layering, because it’s organic. However, you can weave in a plot layer at any time.
Think about your own life. You have lots going on. Your lead characters can have more going on too, once you create some layers. As we’ve said, you’ll create richer stories when you do this.
There’s a danger however. It’s this. It’s easy to lose track of your layers. If that happens, you end up with a mess: you’ll confuse readers.
Managing your layers: each layer needs to be resolved
By the end of your short story, or novel, each layer in your plot needs to be resolved.
In Jane’s story, Jane solves the mystery, and discovers Tiffany’s killer. She also improves her relationship with Tiffany, and deals with her resentful colleague.
You can manage and track your layers in any way that makes sense to you. One of the reasons I adore Scrivener is because the program makes it so easy to keep track of everything. I create Scrivener Collections not only for elements of the plot, but also for layers.
All I need to do is collect all the documents which relate to the layer into titled Collections: viz. — Layer 1, Layer 2 etc. Then I can click on a Collection, and read through the various documents.
This is handy not only when I’m writing, and I wonder where I’ve got to with a subplot or layer, but also in editing, when I need to make sure that I’ve tied up all the loose ends.
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Happy writing. 🙂
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