Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Renee Ryan-Layering Part 2

I’m back!!! Today we’re going to talk about the final four steps in one of my favorite writing topics. The Art of Layering, From First Draft to Finished Manuscript.

Like I said yesterday, many writers believe the first draft is where all the creativity takes place, But I believe some of the most creative aspects of putting a novel together also come in the later stages. The third, fourth or even tenth draft. This process is called layering.

We covered steps one through four yesterday, so let’s start with Step Five today.


Emotion is an important aspect of commercial fiction, especially romance. Your reader wants to “feel” what the characters are feeling. Your reader wants to experience the story first hand. By adding in emotion you can give the reader a stronger, richer experience. Think of it this way. A photograph of a firefighter running out of a burning building with a child in his arms is a powerful, heart-wrenching image on its own. But what if the caption read: Firefighter rescues his own child. Here’s another example:

Beau pressed a white cloth against Jane’s mouth. After the bout of coughing ceased, he pulled back the cloth now filled with the red stain of blood.
Blood from her damaged lungs.
If only she would accept his charity.

Beau pressed a white cloth against Jane’s mouth, afraid each cough wrenching through her fragile body would tear her flesh from the bone. After the bout ceased, he pulled back the cloth now filled with the red stain of blood.
Blood from her damaged lungs.
Beau’s heart pounded with so much anguish for her, for what she’d become, he thought he might choke from it. Jane Goodwin had chosen to earn her money in the most hideous way imaginable. It hurt to see how far she’d fallen.
A shudder racked through him. If only she would accept his charity.


Make sure your dialogue rings true. Does the heroine’s speech sound unique to her? Is that the way a man would talk? Is that the way a man in the nineteenth century would talk? Are your characters talking in fragments? Are they cutting each other off every once and a while?

“The Charity House orphans are--”
“Orphans?” Her eyes went frosty. “You are mistaken. They are not orphans.”
Shane felt his smile slip. “Perhaps they are not orphans in the literal sense. However, they are children who--”
She snorted. She actually snorted at him.
“These children.” He paused to emphasize his point. “These children deserve doctoring.”
She blinked. “Hmph. Tell me about your other patients. You know, the prostitutes.”
Shane held her stare. “I treat them as well. I do not turn anybody away.”
A sound of outrage slipped from her lips. “I will not work with trash.”

“The Charity House orphans are--”
“Orphans?” Her eyes went narrow and frosty, while her lips curled with pitch-perfect disgust. “You use that term loosely, Dr. Bartlett.”
A muscle shifted in his jaw and Shane felt his smile slip. “Perhaps they are not orphans in the literal sense. However, they are children who--”
She snorted. She actually snorted at him. The sound was harsh enough to stop him in mid-sentence.
“These children.” He paused to emphasize his point, but then a dull drumming pounded in his ears and the pattern on the rug at his feet bled into a kaleidoscope of chaotic colors. Shane shook his head and began again. “These children deserve decent medical care like everyone else.”
She blinked. “I will concede your point. However, I am entitled to know about your other patients. What of the mothers still alive, the ones working in the brothels on Market Street?”
Shane held her stare. “I treat them as well. And anyone else in need. I turn none away.”
A sound of outrage slipped from her lips. “Innocent children are one thing, but their mothers are quite another. You did not say in your advertisement that you care for ... for...sinners.”
Her words were like a solid punch to his gut.


The best way to avoid backstory dump is to make sure your addressing all of the other elements we’re discussing here. In other words, if you have paragraph after paragraph of narrative you’re probably heading down the wrong path. Look at this way. Your reader is on a need to know basis. ONLY give the reader what is absolutely essential information. Do we really need to know that Aunt Bessie liked to make apple pies and those pies were your heroines very most favorite? Only if it pertains to the scene.


In a romance, this step ties closely to step five. No matter what level of sensuality you put into your novel, this is an important step in creating a believability factor for the happily-ever-after ending. If you skip this step you in a sexy novel the reader won’t believe the hero and heroine will stick together once the “lust” wears off. Conversely, if you skip this step in a sweet romance the reader won’t believe the hero and heroine are compatible.

Her body reacted with a wave of hot thrill at the sight of the naval officer in his flawless uniform. He looked like a dangerous cat hunting for prey. Was he here to find a woman to bed?
She hoped so.
Look at me, she silently ordered.
He turned and their gazes locked. Giving her a wicked smile, he took one, slow deliberate step toward her.
She took an equally slow, deliberate step toward him.
He took another forward.
And so the hunt began.
But who would win this game? Both, if she had her way. And Aurora always had her way.

In spite of the flawless uniform, a shocking air of wildness resonated out of him and called to her. With his dark, golden hair tied in a queue and harshly chiseled features, he looked like a very beautiful, very dangerous cat hunting for prey.
He surveyed his surroundings with meticulous care, checking faces only. Was he looking for a lost servant? A friend or family member in trouble?
A woman to bed?
Her body reacted with a wave of hot thrill at that last prospect. Meeting such a man on the London Docks, where the familiar rules of society didn’t exist, could be a dangerous adventure. If only she could see his eyes, she would know more about the man’s character.
Look at me, she silently ordered.
As though hearing her call, his head turned in her direction. Their gazes met, locked and held.
His eyes revealed nothing.
Frozen in place, Aurora couldn’t look away, didn’t want to look away. As he continued to hold her in his stare, her stomach clenched and tied into a tight, painful knot.
She’d never met a man so hard to read. His eyes were a fathomless pool of blank emotion, except for a flicker of ... what? What was it she saw in that instant? Need? Hurt? Loneliness?
He gave one, hard blink and the moment was lost.
If she hadn’t seen that small flash of emotion, she might have considered running for home.
Instead, she held her ground.
He took one, slow deliberate step toward her.
She relented, just a bit, with a step back.
He took another forward.
She, another back.
And so the hunt began.

A final note about layering: If you have a scene that doesn’t seem to be working the reason could have something to do with the above steps. Go back through the scene and see if any of the above steps are missing. The more you layer into each scene the richer the story will be.


  1. What a great series, Renee. I'm printing out these two posts, which I will refer to during my upcoming revision.

  2. Once again, great post, Renee. I'm going to bookmark these posts so I don't loose them when it's time to edit :)

    I think dialogue and backstory will be the ones I'll really have to work on. I'm guessing I've been adding more chunks of backstory to my novel than I think. And then there's that pesky thing in dialogue, like a male character having to actually sound like a man :) Dang it. Well, no one said writing is easy, huh?

  3. Very timely information for me. Thanks Renee. Definitely gives me a direction to go while revising.


  4. What an inspiring couple of posts Renee. It's so kind of you to share these tips and the examples you give really bring your points alive. Thank you. :-)

    And your Charity House series sounds wonderful.:-)

  5. I'm with Keli! I'm printing these out for future reference! What a gold mine of info here! The examples are so helpful to be able to SEE the concept!

  6. This has been a hugely helpful two days, Renee. Thank you. Raising my hand. Another one who is printing it up!!

    And thank you for being so generous with your wisdom, oooh, and those book giveaways.

    Coffee is on. Chocolate croissants are ready!!

  7. Thanks Mary and Renee, for this layering series. Clear concise steps.

    And a nice way to get to know Renee better. I'll be watching for your titles!

    debraemarvin (at) yahoooo

  8. Renee,

    I am learning so much from your posts and again, great examples. So glad you were/are a teacher!

    I'm following suit and printing this post off too.


    RRossZediker at yahoo dot com

  9. Renee, another fabulous post! Thanks for the excellent tips on layering. I'm picking up the sound of printers humming across America. Great job!

    I brought apple fritters to join Tina's chocolate croissants on the breakfast bar.


  10. This was really helpful. I like the ease in which you used to explain. Layering is so fascinating to me, and I agree that the more you look at a scene, layering cautiously, the more vibrant it becomes.


  11. Hi Keli,

    Good luck on the revision. And CONGRATS on your GH final. May it turn into a sale!

    Oh yeah, Mia, the man sounding like a man is often a challenge for many of us. Just remember, men do NOT sigh. ;-)


  12. Oh, honey, you set the hook with me on step on step 5, but you reeled me in on step 8!!! WOW! What a great scene ... what book is that from, Renee, because I'm gonna buy it!

    Excellent finish to a great blog. Do you mind if I ask how long you have been writing, Renee, and how many books you've had published? Because I probably will need to read them all ... :)


  13. I'm always up for coffee and croissants. This is definitely the place to start my morning!!!


  14. Oh Wow Renee! Those scenes were wonderful they absolutely blew me away!
    Are they from some of your books? I have never had a chance to read any of your books but, whether these scenes are from them, or not, I will for sure be picking some of yours up in the future !:)

    And I love that you were able to show us the the contrasts of layering it really helps me to be able to see it.
    Thank you for writing on seekerville these past few days every detail has been such a great help.

  15. Thanks to everyone for all your kind words and posts. I always enjoy hanging around Seekerville.

    Julie, I've been writing seriously since 1998. I published my first novel in 2002, after 186 rejections and five unsold manuscripts (oh, yeah, I counted!)I then hit a huge dry spell. Seriously, I couldn't buy attention for my work. I lost an agent, found another one but still couldn't sell.

    I decided to quite chasing the sale and focus on what I could control. The craft of writing. I decided if I was going to collect rejections (add another 77 to the list of the ones I received before I sold) then I was going to swing for the fences and write what I wanted to write. I also started digging deeper into the Word and really working on my faith.

    The result was my first Inspirational Romance -- a WWII thriller set in 1939 Nazi Germany. I know, crazy, right? No one can sell a WWII, right?

    Well I didn't sell it. But I knew wanted to write for the Inspirational market. And so began a slew of sales to Steeple Hill.

    By the way, that WWII thriller did eventually sell. It's a September LIH release. I can't tell you how excited I am for that book to come out!!!

    So...there, more than you wanted to know!


  16. Renee, more wonderful! Great examples on all fronts and I love the way you paint a verbal picture. Thank you so much for being here, for sharing!!!

    And TEENSTER....

    Chocolate croissants....

    Chocolate croissants......

    Really? Because I could SO GO FOR a chocolate croissant.

    Total yummage.

    Coffee's great. Thank you.

    And Renee, thank you again for the awesome giveaways, the wonderful, well-thought lessons.

    You rock, Dudette!


  17. Thank you, Renee. Dialogue is my least favorite part.

    Do you have a download available for your layering?

  18. Ooo Renee, what GREAT blurbs from your writing.
    I want the book! I want the book!!!
    I'm saving this series and printing it when I get home. Fabulous!!
    Adding the emotions'scene', then the sexual tension 'scene' - whew- wonderful!!

    THAT deserves some chocolate this early in the morning. I'm going straight for the chocolate cheesecake I packed for lunch. Right now.
    I'll share!

  19. How could I have missed chocolate croissants?!?
    Okay - I'm putting back the cheesecake and bringing back out after lunch like a good girl.

    Hand over one of those croissants, please.

  20. More great stuff, Renee!! I loved your scenes you shared! :)

  21. Hi Renee:

    I’d like to read the story about the Charity House orphans. Is that a real book?

    I did notice one thing: can layering be done without increasing the word count? Could you have used examples where the word count was actually reduced? I ask this because in advertising copywriting layering can often reduce word count.

    Thanks for your post. This will be a big help. I really think that superior layering could well make the difference in getting published.


    vmres (at) swbell (dot) net

  22. Thank you so much for sharing with us, Renee. So many great points to review again and again. I absolutely loved your examples.

    I'm such a sucker for the alpha military man : ) And that flicker... of what? Oh man. I was a goner.

    Definitely printed this off. Now, just need to finish that rough draft and the fun can begin.

  23. Thanks again, Renee, for this great advice.

    I've already saved these two posts and will print it out for reference as I try to fix up my three or four manuscripts!

    Chocolate croissants! I didn't know they existed. Clever, clever person who invented them!


    sbmason (at) sympatico (dot) ca

  24. Layers upon layers, I suppose the terminology is fitting since we were talking about drafts.

    Don't want people getting a chill when they're reading our books.

    Unless it's a thrill chill...

    These posts have been excellent, Renee.

    The cyber food sounds wonderful as usual. I should stick to it more often. Not so many calories.


  25. Very much enjoying your words of wisdom.

    Might you elaborate more on backstory?

    You spoiled me with the other examples and though I understand about apple pie and all, was wondering about a "good" example?

    Once again - thanks for your time - and wow - that's a lotta rejects. Congratulations for sticking with!!!

    ksf895 at citlink dot net

  26. Even though I'm not a writer, I've enjoyed learning about the process. I can't wait to read your books.

  27. Thanks for taking us through the steps. It helps me to be able to see the befores & afters.


  28. Renee,

    These posts have been incredibly helpful! Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge!

  29. 186 rejections?????? Dear Lord, you are one relentless pitt bull of a writer, girl, and I for one am incredibly impressed! What, did you submit to the Institute for the Blind??? Because I'll tell you what, I'm thinking some of those editors couldn't see the talent right before their noses unless you just got that much better with every rejection!!

    You said: "I decided to quit chasing the sale and focus on what I could control ... and write what I wanted to write. I also started digging deeper into the Word and really working on my faith."

    This is a real blessing to me because I personally have come to this point where I realize I need to stop chasing the sale and focus on God's personal path for me. Be it big sales or small, the key is to be content in writing what God has called us to write personally, and that's not always an easy thing to do.

    Thanks for your insight and encouragement, Renee -- you are a blessing!


  30. even though i am not a writer...i am learning a lot...thank you for sharing :)

    kmkuka at yahoo dot com

  31. Hi all,

    I've been juggling flight schedules and other mishaps all day, hence my lack of posts.

    Vince, you asked about uping the word count. Layering, by nature, will up the word count. But it doesn't have to be a bad thing, or a major amount of words. Sometimes good layering will only add a few words, not paragraphs. The idea is that the original section/scene was missing something -- hence the need for layering.

    I should caution that layering should not be done with a heavy hand. My next workshop/post could easily be on revising -- aka how to focus on an econmoy of words while still getting the point across. ;-)


  32. KC,

    Good question about backstory. It's a hard one to show in this short space.

    Here's a finished example from my WWII novel. The heroine is a stage actress in Hamburg, Germany. She's a favorite of Hitler but is also working undercover for the British. She's supposed to meet her contact after a performance. The book opens in the middle of her performance. I layered in only a part of her backstory...enough to whet the appetite without dumping the information into the reader's lap. See what I mean:

    Opening her eyes to tiny slits, Katia tilted her face just enough to cast a covert glance over the audience. Her latest British contact was out there, waiting. Watching. Bringing with him another chance for her to fight the monster regime and protect her mother in ways she’d been unable to use to defend her father.

    She drew in a short breath, and focused on becoming Juliet once more. The scent of stage dust and greasepaint was nearly overpowering. Dizzying. The spotlight blinding, even with her eyelids half-closed.

    Nevertheless, Katia remained motionless until her cue.

    “The lady stirs... ”

    Remember, the reader is on a "need to know basis". You get enough of her motivation to know she's one of the good guys but has a very personal agenda. Does it matter what that agenda is? Yes, but not yet.

    Make sense?

  33. Julie,

    It sounds like you are in the exact place you need to be. My experience taught me that often God has to do a work in us before He will do His work through us. Keep your heart focused on the Lord, He'll take care of the details from there!


  34. Renee:

    Another poor peasant printing off the tips from the accomplished here.

    I'm far from mastering the techniques, but I've been doing some of this during revisions. I just didn't know WHAT I was doing

    Julie hit on the question uppermost in my mind. How in the world did you find enough places for an unpub to make submissions to garner that many rejections???


  35. I got to the first series yesterday morning, but it took me until the afternoon to get to today's. I found the stuff on dialogue most illuminating as I've recently been paying attention to that, making sure that my characters sound like their genders. Not and easy thing.

    With eveybody else who mentioned it earlier. I'm printing both of these posts off.

  36. In case I need to leave my e-mail address again:


  37. Great snippets, Renee. Are they actual ones you've used?

    Your layering posts are just what I needed right now.

    Thank you,

    Anita Mae.

  38. I want to thank everyone for stopping by these last two days. It's been fun (and an excellent way to avoid working on my own pages)!

    Walt, I love your idea for your nonfiction. Targeting women's magazines sounds like a great plan. Keep us posted how it goes. ;-)


  39. Another excellent post Renee! Thanks. I highlighted the sections on layering backstory and sexual tension.

  40. Helen, just so you know...

    I have no idea what I'm doing either.

    I don't know what to call anything.

    So now you and I can be somewhat blind buddies just muddlin' through.

    Although I understood Renee's posts which is a big step up for me. ;)

    But when people get technical? Or toss writer-speak around?

    I smile and nod.

    Repeatedly. ;) ;) ;) :)

    Just like that.

  41. Wow, your publication road is inspirational. Thank you for sharing. And thank you for being with us.

  42. Renee,
    More great layering information!!! Thanks for sharing so much with us over the last two days. I enjoyed learning about your journey to the inspirational market and will be watching for your WWII story for sure!

  43. Wonderful information. Thank you so much for all the examples.

    Cindy W


  44. Wow! This is a technique I haven't heard of before. I really like it.

    Thanks for sharing, Renee.


  45. Excellent instruction on layering!

  46. This was so awesome and informative. I am now feeling that I have a very long way to go before I'll be a 'better' writer. :) Love the challenge though!

  47. Thank you SO MUCH Renee! I've been so encouraged by both posts and feel I've been given just what I need to actually start writing. So great to also read about your journey and encouraged to know about the God part of it - which is the main part, right?! :o)
    God Bless you!!
    e dot johnsen at clear dot net dot nz