Layering
is what I call the process of blending the plot so that they do not seem
dropped into the manuscript for convenience. There are a number of different
portions of a story that can and should be layered: Props, character arcs,
twists and turns, back story (which, when done correctly, brings in surprises
for the reader), and a chief element that I wish to discuss today: conflict.
As most
authors are aware, conflict is the fuel that drives plots forward. A story
absent conflict is boring. Likewise, a story where the conflict is introduced
and resolved in time for another conflict to arise is equally as boring and it’s
what we call episodic.
Layering
is the technique by which authors avoid episodic writing. This practice allows
an author to build the conflict. For example: Joe and Ted are part of a small
group of teenage friends. They like to hang out and have fun. They went their
different ways over the summer, but now, this last weekend before school
starts, they’ve all met at the lake to have some fun. The scene opens, and Joe
is acting differently. He seems antsy, and he tries to talk the boys into doing
things they wouldn’t have ever thought of, say racing their cars down the old
twisting and turning road that leads to the lake. The boys deny Joe is fun and
while Joe and Ted are out in the middle of the lake, Ted demands to know what’s
wrong with him. Joe answers by nearly drowning Ted. Scene ends.
The
conflict is set. We haven’t brought Joe and Ted on stage, introduced a problem
and resolved it by Joe explaining his actions. The reader wants to turn the
page and find out what in the world happened to Joe over the summer to make him
change.
In
another scene, Ted, who has avoided his best friend for a while is downtown. It’s
the Friday after school has started, and Joe has skipped school a number of
days. Tonight, though, he’s at the local hangout, and he’s not alone. Joe has
brought a group of kids with him. These aren’t good kids. They’re gang members.
They’re threatening, and everyone is afraid of them. They challenge Ted,
circling around him, ready to beat him up. Ted looks into the eyes of the guy
he’s known all his life, and he waits. Joe wouldn’t let him down. He’d get him
out of this. Joe narrows his eyes. “Don’t beat him up too bad, boys.” Joe steps
out of the circle.
Joe had
now taken another step into the abyss that Ted will eventually need to pull him
from, if Ted can ever forgive him. The conflict in this coming of age story is
building, until it reaches a climax. Can Ted save Joe from self-destruction?
What sent Joe over the edge? Did Ted have anything to do with it?
These
are questions that layering will answer—not all at once but as the story
unfolds.
Conflict
is what makes the reader turn the page. Layer it in.
Happy
editing.

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