How And When To Write In Layers

Stefani Vader
Mar 22 · 3 min read
https://pixabay.com/users/skeeze-272447/

Every writer faces that difficult scene.

You know the one I’m talking about. You know what needs to happen in that scene, how it should play out, but when it comes to getting it down on paper, you sit staring at the screen.

For me, this often happens during action scenes.

I always worry that I’m not going to give enough detail, or the sequence will be muddy and the reader won’t be able to follow along.

One of the tricks I have found when facing this situation is to write in layers.

Writing in layers

Every scene consists of three main components. Dialogue, action, and description.

Now, think about what your strengths and weaknesses are.

For me, dialogue comes easy. I am always at a loss as to what I should add in for description.

Start with your strength.

Write out the entire scene using what ever you are strong at. For example (a bad short example):

“Put the knife down, and step away from the body.”

“This isn’t what it looks like.”

“I’m not going to tell you again.”

I can hear the voices speak clearly in my head, and can see what is going on. Now, I still hate description, so I’ll add in a little action.

Craig whipped his gun out of it’s holster and leveled it at the young woman, his hands steady.

“Put the knife down, and step away from the body.”

“This isn’t what it looks like.” Her entire body trembled as she raised her eyes to meet his.

“I’m not going to tell you again.” Different scenarios played through Craig’s mind as he stood at a standstill, waiting to see what happened.

When you’ve completed the second layer, you’ve come to the last step, and the hardest step. Now you face your weakness. For me, trying to describe things is a struggle. I’m worried there won’t be enough description, or I’ll put in too much. Or maybe I won’t use the right words. But, now is the time to face that.

The woman hadn’t heard him as he’d turned the corner into the alley and she stood motionless. Craig whipped his gun out of it’s holster and leveled it at the young woman, his hands steady. What the hell had he walked into?

“Put the knife down, and step away from the body.”

She jerked her head and looked at him, her teary eyes wide. Blood trailed from her hairline and down the side of her face. One strap of her blue silk nightie was ripped and hung limply, her breast barely remaining covered.

“This isn’t what it looks like.” Her entire body trembled as she raised her eyes to meet his. Blood from the crumpled form of the man on the ground pooled around her bare feet, forming a shallow puddle.

“I’m not going to tell you again.” Different scenarios played through Craig’s mind as he stood at a standstill, waiting to see what happened. A cool breeze shifted the thin material and she shivered.

She lifted her hands in front of her and stared down at her bloody hand still gripping the handle of the large kitchen knife. It fell to a clatter on the asphalt as she stumbled back, attempting to wipe the blood from her palms.

By writing in layers, I was able to take three simple sentences of dialogue, and turn it into a scene. The more I read through it now, the more I see places that I can add in some description or some action. I can imagine how the scene ends, and what will happen in the next one.

When I am at a complete standstill, writing in layers helps to unblock me.

It is more time consuming than just writing out a scene the normal way, so it is not something I would recommend doing every single time. But when you are stuck? You know what the scene is about and have an idea of what is going to be said, what needs to happen, that’s when this method helps to get it down on the page.

Try it out.

Don’t just sit there staring at a blank white screen, watching the cursor blink at you. Pick one of the three components and start there. Before you know it, that scene will be written and ready to be edited.

Good luck, and happy writing!

Stefani Vader

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Lover of reading and writing. Hater of retail work. Small fish in a big pond, learning as I go.