Monday, August 22, 2016

My Diagnosis: Writing in Layers

with guest Shannon Taylor Vannatter.

I snapped this cloud shot during our annual road trip to Texas. See how they’re like bricks, stacked on top of each other in layers above the tree line? I thought of this post when I saw them. 

For years, I didn’t know what to call my condition. I had the luxury of perfecting my chapters before I sent them to my critique partners, until I signed a contract. Suddenly with deadlines looming, I sent them page upon page of dialogue and character thought with this disclaimer: Sorry guys, this is sooooo first draft. I always add the description, body language, and emotion later. Just let me know if you like the characters and story.

That’s when one of my critters diagnosed me in a life-changing e-mail: You write in layers. 

Wow, is that what it’s called? Once I knew, I fully embraced my label. My first drafts are heavy on dialogue with a touch of character thought, light on everything else. Talking heads with no sense of where they are, movement, or emotional reactions. I’ll show you what I mean. Here’s my first draft of an early partial scene from my first Love Inspired title, Reuniting with the Cowboy. True to form, it’s all dialogue with a bit of character thought.

Here’s the setup: the heroine has a veterinarian clinic and animal shelter at her home. With a new neighbor next door, she’s anxious to win them over and hopefully avoid any complaints about her noisy critters. At the end of the first scene, she shows up bearing a dessert, recognizes her new neighbor, and almost drops the dish. This is the beginning of scene two:

Cody grabbed the dish, his hands closing over hers. Ally. On his porch. Skittish as a newborn colt. Who would have thought one kiss would put the wariness in her eyes and cause Ally to spend all that time since avoiding him? 

“Cody? You’re my new neighbor?”

“Looks like.” 

“I thought you’d be back on the circuit by now.” 

“I…um…I decided not to go back to the rodeo.” More like his doctor decided for him. 

“Aubrey is home and I needed a place of my own.”

“You bought the place next to me?”

“This was the only land available with enough acreage to start a ranch.” Technically leasing, with an option to buy. 

“What happened to Aubrey not being big enough for you?”

“Things change. Does your mom still live with you?”

“She does. Okay, yeah, I still live at home. But it’s the perfect place for my vet practice-slash-shelter and Mom’s my office manager at the clinic.”

“Come on in. And tell me this is a four-layer delight.”

“It is. Mom made it, but I didn’t come to stay.” 

This draft has 180 words. Other than Cody grabbing the dish, there’s no movement. Through the entire scene, they stand like statues, both holding the dish. We know they’re on his porch only because of his thoughts. Except for that one movement, everything above is mostly dialogue with a splash of character thought and that’s how my first drafts always look. 

Here’s the version that went into print:

Cody grabbed the dish, his hands closing over hers. His breath caught.

Ally. On his porch.

Same old Ally. Long waves the color of a dark bay horse’s coat, usually twined in a thick braid but loose today and spilling over her slender shoulders. Cautious coffee-colored eyes as skittish as a newborn colt.

He’d succumbed to her charms once. It had rearranged his insides and altered everything. Who would have thought one kiss would put the wariness in her eyes, build an uncomfortable wall between them and cause Ally to spend all that time since avoiding him? 

All because of his disobedient lips.

“Cody?” Her voice went up an octave. “You’re my new neighbor?”

“Looks like.” And now he’d gone and moved in next door to her. Maybe not the best way to keep his distance. “Let me take this.” He scooped the dish out of her hands.

“I thought you’d be back on the circuit by now.” Her gaze dropped to his shirt collar.

“I…um…I decided not to go back to the rodeo.” More like his doctor decided for him. And that little bubble in his brain had something to say about it, too. “Aubrey is home and I needed a place of my own.”

“You bought the place next to me?”

“This was the only land available with enough acreage to start a ranch.” Technically leasing, with an option to buy. If he decided to have surgery. And lived.

She hugged herself. “What happened to Aubrey not being big enough for you?”

“Things change.” A brain aneurysm changed lots of things. “Does your mom still live with you?”

“She does.” She bit her lip. “Okay, yeah, I still live at home. But it’s the perfect place for my vet practice-slash-shelter and Mom’s my office manager at the clinic.”

“Come on in.” He stepped aside, striving for casual, despite the drumming of his heart. “And tell me this is a pecan chocolate four-layer delight.”

“It is. Mom made it, but I didn’t come to stay.” She glanced toward her place.

I’m not saying this is the second draft, just the final one. Sometimes, I pour over scenes, adding and deleting four or five times.

Now at 341 words, emotional reactions give you a sense of how both characters feel about seeing each other again. We see what Ally looks like from Cody’s perspective. They still stand there holding the dish for a bit as they’re both in shock, but there’s movement as he takes it from her. More detail into his medical condition explains why he’s back, why he’s only leasing, and it ups the stakes. He steps aside to let her in and you find out more about the dessert in case readers aren’t familiar with it. And instead of only saying she doesn’t want to come inside, she shows her reluctance. There’s still not a lot of movement here, but once she gives in and goes inside, they move around more in the rest of the scene.

I’ve met so many writers over the years who haven’t finished a book because they keep going back and trying to perfect the first paragraph, scene, or chapter before they can move on. 

Unless my critique partners are going through my work as I write, I complete the entire book before I go back into layer what’s missing. Sometimes my first drafts include clichés, mostly telling instead of showing, and scenes in the wrong point of view. Giving myself permission to write badly propels me forward. I’ve never, ever, ever had any problem with finishing a book. 

Every writer is different. Certain techniques work for some and don’t for others. If you struggle with perfection or with finishing your book, try giving yourself permission to write badly, finish that first draft, and layer in the good stuff later. 

Question: What writing technique have you discovered that works for you?

Today Shannon is generously giving away  2 copies of Reuniting with the Cowboy. International included. Winners announced in the Weekend Edition.

Can’t wait for the drawing? On sale August 23: Reuniting with the Cowboy

The Cowboy Next Door 

A charming cowboy moving in next door shouldn't be bad news. But veterinarian Ally Curtis knows Cody Warren—she'd never forget the boy who left her when she needed him most. Cody is doing everything he can to show his beautiful neighbor he's not the wild bull rider he once was, from helping her find homes for her beloved strays, to protecting her when her business is threatened. But Cody has a secret that keeps him from fully reaching out. Yet as they continue to work together to promote her shelter, he can't keep himself from hoping that Ally might have a home for him…in her heart.

Award winning, central Arkansas author, Shannon Taylor Vannatter is a stay-at-home mom/pastor’s wife. She once climbed a mountain wearing gold wedge-heeled sandals which became known as her hiking boots. Vannatter has twelve published titles and is contracted for three more. 

It took Vannatter nine years to get published in the traditional market. She hopes to entertain Christian women and plant seeds in the non-believer’s heart as her characters struggle with real-life issues. Their journeys, from ordinary lives to extraordinary romance through Christ-centered relationships, demonstrate that love doesn’t conquer all, Jesus does.

Learn more about Shannon and her books at Shannon’s Website and check Shannon’s Blog full of real life romance and weekly book giveaways.

Connect with her: Shannon’s Facebook, Shannon’s Goodreads, Shannon’s Pinterest, Shannon’s Twitter, and  Shannon’s Amazon Author Page.


Vince said...

Hi Shannon:

I write my first draft the same way you described as how you do it. I think doing it this way is a byproduct of doing NaNo year after year. It seems thefastest way to move the story along is with dialogue. The NaNo goal is just 50,000 words in a month so that leaves a lot of extra words for filling in the layers.

I prefer to think in terms of writing in 'passes'. One pass for body language, one for five-sensing, one for emotions and physical proxies. I also edit in passes. I always edit 'for' a given problem. For example: I'll make a pass for sentence clarity. Next I might make a pass for over used words.

I like the term 'passes' because 'layering' makes me think these layered additions are one on top of the other -- like Ally's mother's multi-layered delight. I see the process as more like adding ingredients to soup. The changes are side by side and all contemporaneous with each other.

This variance in terminology would probably only make a difference to language philosophers but then I select analogies that I feel will work best for me.

Please put me in the drawing for "Reuniting With The Cowboy".


Tina Radcliffe said...

Welcome to Seekerville, Shannon! Welcome back, actually.

Pass that cup of coffee!

I want to know how you do this. I am currently on page 209 of 330 and I am going back to the beginning to edit before I move forward, for the twentieth or so time.

If I could only master the put it down and move on skill, my life would be so nice.

I can write 1k a day. Sure. But it's garbage. Then I end up with 300 pages of garbage.

This must be a wiring issue with my brain.

Trixi said...

Layering, now I like the sound of that! Your examples are perfect to illustrate your technique. Thinking back to all the books I've read, I can see how many authors achieve this. Adding depth to both characters and scenery, and as a reader, I love that!

Learning more of how authors write has opened my eyes to a whole new world! And my respect and appreciation for your hard work has deepened, thanks for all you do to bring us pure enjoyment in the pages of a book. :-)

Please add my name for a copy of Reuniting With the Cowboy, thank you! I want to read the rest from your excerpt :-)

Cindy W. said...

Great post Sharon. I'm in a season of not writing right now, but your way of layering is something I need to try. I tend to write a couple pages and then go back and edit, edit, edit and then try to move on. I need to turn off my inner editor and move on to "The End." I'll definitely try your technique to see if it will work for me.

I would love to win a copy of your book. Thank you for the chance.

Smiles & Blessings,
Cindy W.

Jessica Nelson said...

That was very interesting! I'm not sure what works for me. It seems like my life has changed so much from when I first started writing, that I can only grab bits of time here and there. I don't think I write in layers though, and I mostly have to write chronologically.
Thanks for the examples!!

It sounds like a great story. :-)

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Shannon, you stood the test of time to get here! Go you!!! Thank you for this wonderful look at how a story develops from that first draft... to the layered cake complete with fillings and spreads and frostings and trim and sprinkles.

I love sprinkles!!!!!

So nice to have you here!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Jess, I'm a chronological writer, too. I think that's the science side of me that sets the action, then has to do the reaction from physical/emotional/mental/faith aspects... Unless they're REALLY MAD and just spout off and then have plenty of time to regret later...

I like the rhythm of writing chronologically and I don't go back and edit until the book is done... and then I address my editing notes and start layering.

(wait, I'm not exactly truthful there, I go back and read the preceding scene and tweak it right away when I re-open the laptop, and THEN I move forward.)

I find it fascinating that we all have our own way of doing things. I rely on emotion to set the scenes. If that's there, I know what that character will do because it's in character...

This is an amazing business... Shannon, you got me talking!!!

Now we have to quiet me down!!!

Cate Nolan said...

Good morning, Shannon and Seekerville.

Shannon, I write in a similar manner to your layering. It's basically how I figure out what's happening in the story. I start telling it to myself, playing games with the scenes, and let the people talk to me.

Because I write suspense, I've developed this odd way of doing it. I write chronologically in the beginning, then I jump to the end and get that down, and then I go back to the middle so that the suspense pacing is right and leads in to the end just where it's supposed to. I've found that as a way of avoiding extra scenes that my editor will only make me cut anyway.

I have a question for you. When you wrote that first layer, did you know the details of the scene? Did you know Cody had an aneurysm?

I ask because I'm a miserable plotter, so my first layer is usually me figuring out what the story is about. A lot can change by the final layer. It's fun to read back through my first drafts and see how I thought a story might go (until I came up with something better)

Thanks for being here and sharing with us today. And congrats on your first LI.

Jackie said...

Hi Shannon,
Thanks for showing us how writing in layers works. Congratulations on your book. You definitely hooked me to wanting to read more!
Have a great day!

Wilani Wahl said...

Shannon, Please enter me for a copy of your book.

I am finding I write from start to finish without going back other than like Ruthy to fix something quick in the last scene I wrote before I continue on. Then I am like Shannon layering and fixing my stilted dialogue etc. I am still developing the skills of writing in deep POV

I see some sunshine this morning. Hopefully that means a better day and week. The storms affect me physically so hopefully the housework and writing that has been put off can get done today and this week.

Here's to a productive week for everyone!

DebH said...

ooooooooo... I love that little glimpse into your writing and now I really want to read your book. I don't think I'm a layering person when it comes to writing, but I like seeing how other authors work. I think I'm cherry picking techniques from all the good writers I love to read who have shared here at Seekerville. Thanks for sharing.

Would love my name to be in the draw. Must mark at Amazon to buy the book if I don't win.

Julie Lessman said...


And I love this post because it's somewhat how I write too. I find that dialogue really stirs my plotter's soul and connects me to the characters in a heartbeat via a word or two.

In fact, dialogue so motivates me, that it's the way I always write my synopses -- using snippets of dialogue sprinkled through before I've even written the story, helping to shape the story for me. Then those snippets end up in the book.

You said: "Question: What writing technique have you discovered that works for you?

I like to get the first chapter as clean as I can, which is good because you need the first chapter for a proposal. But then on, I draft it as much as an CDQ perfectionist can, trying desperately not to edit as I go along, but it's a struggle. :)


Glynna Kaye said...

Welcome, SHANNON! I often write in layers, too. Not straight from book beginning all the way to end, but in snatches. Like Julie, I have those first 3 chapters fine-tuned because they go into the proposal. From there on out I tend to work with layering about 3 chapters at a time as I complete them because if I wait until The End to go back and start layering, I miscalculate where I am word count-wise and too often overshoot my contracted length by a mile! Not something I want to discover right before the book is due. :)

J Baugh said...

Thank you, Shannon! I really appreciate this post.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Good morning Shannon and welcome to Seekerville. Thanks for showing your layering process. It is always helpful when you actually show us how you changed or layered as you went. What a difference in the two versions.

I like the premise of your book and the characters. smile

I write in layers, but do it chapter by chapter. Then one final pass gets more stuff added in.

Thanks for sharing today. Have fun.

Laura Conner Kestner said...

Enjoyed this, SHANNON. I write in layers as well (didn't know what to call it) and prefer doing dialogue first - including the ending. But I don't do it in any chronological order. I'm hoping to train myself to do it that way though. Loved your examples - thank you so much for sharing!

VINCE, you said: "I also edit in passes. I always edit 'for' a given problem. For example: I'll make a pass for sentence clarity. Next I might make a pass for over used words." LOVE this idea and plan on using it! Saw another post today about editing (proofreading, really) that suggested reading from the bottom of the page up, and from right to left. Supposedly easier to catch some mistakes that way. Plan to try both these. Thanks!

Jeri Hoag said...

I love this post I finally realized I write in layers too! I like your term better then mine. I would say I got the bones done then add the flesh and blood later. I guess I'm a little graphic. :)

Shannon Taylor Vannatter said...

Wow, y'all have been busy this morning.

Hey Vince, I like you pass technique. Sounds like we have similar techniques. In my passes, though I look for everything at once. I can see how focusing on certain aspects could work well though.

Hey Tina, thanks for having me here. I need coffee in the morning. I'm so not a morning person. I actually require chocolate covered coffee beans to get me going. In case anyone can't read the cup, it says: Please don not annoy the writer, she may put you in a book and kill you. My local writing group got it for me that last time I taught a class there. It's my favorite cup.

For the how do I do that part. I write. The next day, I reread what I wrote to get me back in the story and do minor editing. Then I write. I repeat this process until I finish the first draft. I don't reread the entire story, just what I wrote the day before. When I finish, I use Margie Lawson's EDITS System to see what I need to layer in. It's a great class and is online. If you haven't taken it, check it out.

Thanks Trixi for your compliments. Writing is sometimes hard work. People tend to think we just twiddle our thumbs and the book gets done. I wish :)

Boo Smelser said...

My method is first figuring out the story, how it gets developed, and generally what happens where. Then I start writing, from beginning to end, all the way through the story, planning my chapters when I get an ambush of ideas, tweaking my structure where I see fit, and then coming to the end at last... noting some things I should have mentioned/foreshadowed in my story previously to make the climax more believable and such. My dialogues are normally complete and stuff, but it's the details of the story that send me back through again. Also, when the story's too short or when some grand idea hits me, extra scenes and subplots.

Myra Johnson said...

Welcome, Shannon! Thanks for sharing your writing process with us today. It's good to see how other writers work because you never know when a different technique might turn out to be just what we need to try for ourselves.

However . . . it's so great that there is no one right way to write, because I am one of those who labors over every word, sentence, and paragraph to get them as close to the way I want them as I can before I'm able to move forward. There might be some layering once I get farther along and something important occurs to me. At that point, I'll either make a note to myself or go back right then and fix it while it's still fresh in my mind.

Cynthia Herron said...

Layers!!! (Not just for winter. LOL!!! Hey--couldn't resist. It's Monday. :-) ) I love that concept and that's how I approach writing, too.

Thank you, Shannon, for your perspective and why this method works!

Connie Queen said...

Shannon, I sorta write in layers after the first chapter or two. I need the opening to be right.

I have this fear of not finishing the book and if I stop to get setting and good descriptions down, I'll get lost. And I may have to delete all that description when I get the whole story down anyway because it doesn't fit.

With my current wip, I'd like to get the whole first draft down and then make finish my layers before sending it to my critique partner.

Shannon Taylor Vannatter said...

Hey Cindy W,
I hope your season of not writing ends soon and this post helps you. Thanks for stopping in.

Hi Jessica,
Sometimes it takes time to figure out what works for us. I can understand writing chronologically. My scenes are usually chronological, but sometimes I'll even go back and add entire scenes in when I realize I didn't tie up a thread or left something dangling. And a few times, when I've got a big emotional or dramatic scene that keeps playing in my head, it helps for me to go ahead and write it, then go back and write up to it to connect the dots. If that even makes sense :)

Oh Ruth,
It was a long journey to get here. I love your analogy cake with fillings, spreads, frostings, trim, and sprinkles. I should have used a picture of cake instead of clouds. And you're making me hungry.

Hey Cate,
I did know the details and that Cody had the anuerysm when I initially wrote the scene. I'm a terrible plotter too. Before I was published, I probably wouldn't have known any details or the anuerysm. I'm sooooo pantser. But now I have to turn in the synposis to my editor before I write the book. It's torment for me to write synopses pre-book - full of hair pulling and teeth gnashing. Sometimes as I write, something comes up that wasn't in the synopsis - like a lost piece of a puzzle and it makes the whole book better. So far my editors have been okay with that. I warn them in advance that I'm a pantser.

And thanks. I'm excited about LI.

Hey Jackie,
I learn best by example, so I like to share that way. Thanks for stopping in and I hope you get the chance to read more. Cody popped up as a side character back in my rodeo series and he's long been bugging me for his own story.

Hi Wilani,
I'm glad to know there are other layering writers out there. I thoroughly dislike summer and am so ready for fall. I'm more productive when I'm not having heatstroke just from walking outside to my car.

Boo Smelser said...

I don't allow myself to write the dramatic and emotional scenes out of order. They drive me forward as my special treats if I can just get to them...

Shannon Taylor Vannatter said...

Hi DebH,
Cherry picking from your favorite authors is a great way to figure out your process. I'm glad you enjoyed the excerpt. I'm so in love with Cody. But then I fall for all my heroes. Good thing I base them all on my husband :) He's not a cowboy though. I just take aspects of his personality and cowboy him up.

Hey Julie,
Thanks for having me back. I always enjoy my visits here. I love, love, love this blog. My critique partner introduced it to me. She learned to write simply by reading the archives here. Once she told me about it, I did a lot of craft studying here too.

My first several attempts at writing books had practically no dialogue. Once I finally joined a writing group, they told me I needed dialogue, so I studied it. Then my books ended up all dialogue. It takes a while to find the right balance and the right technique that works for each writer.

Good point on the clean first chapter. I made it sound like I send my first draft with my proposal. I do thoroughly layer my 1st 3 chapters and get them print ready before I turn in my proposal to my editor. But then I write the rest of the book badly and fix it when I'm done.

Good point on the word count. I intentionally end my 1st draft 5,000 to 10,000 words short, so I have room to layer when I'm finished.

Hi JBaugh,
Glad you stopped in. I hope my rambling helped.

Hey Sandra,
The chapter by chapter layering sounds interesting. It's so fun to see how each different writer works. I so wish I was a plotter. I have two plotter crit partners. Their 1st drafts are so clean and mine are such a mess.

Shannon Taylor Vannatter said...

Hey Laura Conner Kestner,
Don't you love when someone diagnoses you :) Once my crit partner said that, I saw a class on layering and took it. I felt so at home. I've done the reading from the back of the book to the beginning, a paragraph at a time. It's amazing what you catch that way.

Hi Jeri Hoag,
Let me guess - you write suspense? I'm dying to know.

Hey Boo,
Sounds like you're a mixture of plotting and pantsing.

Hi Myra,
I bet your 1st drafts are stellar. Mine stink. Bad.

Shannon Taylor Vannatter said...

Hi Cynthia,
Bring on winter. Have I said I hate summer. I totally hate being hot, sweating when I'm doing nothing, and humidity. Fall is my favorite, but I prefer winter to summer. Of course, I live in the south and our winters are relatively mild.

Hi Connie,
It sounds like we're a lot alike. A lot of the time, I'm not sure on my timeline when I first start writing. I don't know the time of year or anything, so I basically leave out all setting until I figure out when the story needs to happen.

That sounds like a good plan, Boo. I only write my emotional scenes out of order if they keep playing in my head. And I'm afraid if I don't get them in the computer, I'll lose some of the whammy.

Chill N said...

Hi Shannon!

When my writing is bogged, I do what you described -- I go to the dialogue. The characters talk me through the scene and leave me to add everything else :-)

That's a fun saying on your coffee cup (in the photo).

Best wishes for your writing!

Nancy C

Marianne Barkman said...

Morning, Shannon. It's so great to see you here again! I love your you know! I always enjoy finding out more about how my favorite writers work to get their amazing books into my greedy little hands. It's raining here today, so I am thankful I have some books to read. And review!

Janet Dean said...

SHANNON, welcome back to Seekerville. Thanks for showing us the before and after of your excerpt. It makes me want to read the book. I envy your ability to write that first rough draft! I can't seem to stop revising as I go. All that editing slows me down, but it also gives me time to think and to see what I'm afraid I'd miss later. For some reason I have difficulty adding emotion after the story is written. I need an intervention!! This post at least makes me want to try, but I suspect a blow to the head would be even more effective. LOL


Sandy Smith said...

Thanks for this great post, Shannon. It is so encouraging to know you write bad first drafts because I am terrible when I first sit down to write and I have such a hard time not fixing it right away. I also write short stories and I do the same thing with that. I can't even write a 1,000 word story without wanting to fix it. Yet if I get it written out, then it is much easier for me to "fix it." I am working on my first novel and I have had to force myself to just write. I have done Speedbo here in Seekerville for the last two years which has really forced me to get the words down.

Please enter me in the drawing.

Sandy Smith said...

Tina, I can so relate when you said it is easy to write 1k a day but it's garbage. That is exactly how I feel. But you have written a lot of books, so you obviously find a way to work through it.

Sandy Smith said...

Shannon, I realize that I intended to say that the idea of writing in layers is what I am trying to do, so I am glad to see you explain the concept. Thanks again.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Speaking of first drafts. I spelled your name wrong. So embarrassed. Please forgive me. You can call me, Tuna or Teena or Tiyna anytime.


Tina Radcliffe said...

You're a pantser. Would have NEVER called that one. I would have figured you BORN TO PLOT!!! Anal retentive born to plot. Maybe there is hope for me.

Sandy Smith said...

For those of you Seekers who wrote in the Coffee Shop Romances, I just finished reading it. I loved all the stories and I wrote a review. Keep those novellas coming!

Nicky Chapelway said...

Oh My Word! Writing in layers? That describes me to a T! I have often told my sister that while working on a scene I can only really focus on one thing. Whether it is details, action, dialogue, character development it really depends on what mood I am in. To add the other stuff I have to go back and write it in later. I don't actually wait until I'm done writing the book to go back and layer. I do it intermittently as I write the newer chapters. Stuck at a scene? I go back and work on layering my work. Generally that helps me get over any writer's block I may be experiencing.

I would LOVE to win your book! Please enter my name for the drawing!

Shannon Taylor Vannatter said...

Hey Nancy C,
That's a great way to put it - letting your character talk you through the scene.

I've wanted a writer cup for a long time, but was too cheap to buy one. I love it and keep it on my desk.

Hi Marianne,
Thank goodness for readers like you with greedy little hands. I love reading on rainy days. And napping. I'm not a morning person. In the summer, I stay up until 2 am and sleep until 10. When school starts up again, it's hard on me. I get up at 7 am, but I can't go to sleep any earlier for a few weeks.

Hey Janet,
I think you're doing fine. You keep cranking out books, so something's working.

Hi Sandy,
I taught a class a writing conference last year and told my attendees to give themselves permission to write badly. It's very freeing. Speedbo and Nanowrimo are great ways to keep you moving forward. I've never done either one. I never heard of Nano until I was published and Speedbo didn't exist until after. I've tried a few times since, but it never works out with my deadlines. I usually end up getting edits in the middle of my attempts. And I think I'll have to get the Coffee Shop Romances. Three of my favorite things all wrapped in one - coffee, romance, book.

I didn't notice and you must have fixed it, because it looks fine. But then my brain isn't really awake yet. Not until noon. I hate plotting. Hate it. Hate it. The 1st time I had to write a synopsis before I wrote the book - it gave me writers' block - which I thought was a myth - until I got it. I have to write the synopsis way in advance, then work on edits or another book until the synopsis is out of my head. Then I write the book and just go with it. If I get stuck, I look at the synopsis. But writing the synopsis is downright painful and I HATE IT. Did I say I hate it?

Tina Radcliffe said...

Oh, so glad I am not alone.

It's really hard to hold onto the creative freedom with one fist as you plot with the other..

Tina Radcliffe said...

Do you write with a laptop/notebook or desktop? Any particular schedule with your writing?

BTW, your cover is one of the prettiest out there right now. LOVE IT.

What did you provide as far as your pictures to the art department? Which movies stars am I looking at here?

Tina Radcliffe said...

And I forgot to ask what you're working on now??

Shannon Taylor Vannatter said...

I do wish I was a plotter Tina. I think writers who are plotters have less angst.

I write with a desktop 90% of the time. Occassionally, I'll take the laptop outside and sit on the front porch in the fall. I love the fall. But when I do that, I have to be on guard. I live back off the highway, but I write in my jammies, my comfy stretchy shorts and t shirts, or warm ups. With no makeup and barely combed hair. So if someone turns down our road, I run and hide. I don't answer the door in this condition, no matter who you are.

For a schedule, during the school year - I write from 7:30 to 1:30. I eat lunch at my desk and only get up to put laundry in the washer or dryer. At 1:30, I get presentable, go pick up 14 yr old son from school, and spend the rest of the day with my family or doing church stuff since my husband is a pastor.

In the summer, I spend days with my family. Until 10 pm. I write until 2 or 3 am and sleep until 10. This is the schedule I love since I'm a night owl. But I'm less productive, since I don't have all day long. I try not to have deadlines in the summer. I'll do the bulk of the book before school ends and then have a Oct deadline, so I don't have to write much until Aug when school starts again. This summer, I pretty much took off and enjoyed my family. At this point, I figure I don't have that many summers left with my son.

Thanks. I love the cover. They did a great job. I don't know who the guy is, just a picture I found. The girl is a model, Clara Alonso. I keep a Pinterest Page for each book. Here's the link to my Reuniting with the Cowboy board:

Right now, I'm working on book 3 in my Texas Cowboys series. Book 2 releases in April and is about Ally's cousin, Landry. Book 3 is about Landry's friend, Resa.

Mary Connealy said...

I'm always amazed at how my books grow on revision. I don't call it layering, but I'll bet that's exactly what it is.

Mary Connealy said...

Especially an action scene or a comedy scene. I've learned I can't do it right the first time. I have to just get it down, then fix it.
I once had ONE SENTENCE grow into about a 1000 word scene. But I went over it and over it and over it to make it into that scene.

Shannon Taylor Vannatter said...

Hey Mary,
You do action scenes justice. And comedy. I'm glad to know not even you get it right the first time. Wow, that must have been an interesting sentence.

Mary Connealy said...

It was the marriage scene in Calico Canyon. I just made it crisp and sudden and over.
And then I saw a wasted opportunity and acted it out. Five kids all utterly opposed to the wedding. Their father to their hated teacher.
The bride AND groom utterly opposed to the wedding.
A preacher and his wife who come upon scandal and insist on a wedding. (She spent the night with him!!!! of course she was mostly unconscious and the five boys were there in the one room cave, but still.....

Shannon Taylor Vannatter said...

Hey Nicky,
I'm so glad I diagnosed you. Sometimes just knowing what you are is freeing. That's a really good idea about if you're stuck on a scene, go and layer somewhere else. I might have to try that one.

Shannon Taylor Vannatter said...

Sounds conficted Mary. And funny, knowing you.

Shannon Taylor Vannatter said...

I was just scanning past Seekerville posts - I got behind during the summer. I'm an avid lurker. Anyway, I saw that Pam Hillman used the same guy for her book as I used for Cody. I don't know who this guy is, but he sure is getting around :)

Debby Giusti said...

Love your layering! Lovely post, Shannon!

So many folks talk about peeling the onion as they write...but that seems to work the wrong way for me. With an onion, you're removing layers...and in writing, we add to the story as you so delightfully explained.

I'm a bit of a layer-er myself! I write a rough first draft and then revise and rewrite. My dialogue often starts rather bare, as you explained in your process. Love to see how the scene takes shape when the other "ingredients" are added.

Your story sound intriguing, Shannon. I so want that cowboy to survive his surgery and find his HEA with the girl next door!

Will we see you in Nashville? Hope so!

Shannon Taylor Vannatter said...

Yes Debby, I'm so glad you said that about the onion. I took a class on that once and it confused me because it's backward. I won't be in Nashville this time. I planned to be, but my traveling buddy's mom has been sick and my deadlines are out of control, so we decided to sit this year out. Maybe next year.

Lorna said...

Hello, my layering crit partner! Great post. You do a great job of getting your thoughts on paper from the start and then fleshing them out. And I LOVE this story! I know your readers will, too.

Jill Weatherholt said...

Welcome to Seekerville, Shannon. Your cover is beautiful! I enjoyed reading about your writing process. Once I get my first draft written, I also go back and begin the layering process. For me, that's the fun part. I'd love to be entered into the drawing.

Megs Minutes said...

Hey guys! Good post - When I have a habit of stalling on a particular scene, it is generally because I've not thought about where my plot or characters are going. It's fun for a writing exercise, but doesn't do much if the ultimate goal is a finished manuscript! ;)

The story sounds interesting, I'll have to check my library list for it.

* please, don't enter me into the drawing. *

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If that is something you are researching (or you know someone who is researching a similar topic), please check it out and share it! I don't know how long he'll leave it free.

The course is on the learning platform and it is also free to join that site as well.

You can find the course here:

Shannon Taylor Vannatter said...

Hey Lorna, my diagnosing crit partner. She who plots the book to death and then writes a stellar first draft that barely needs any critiquing. Glad you love the story.

Hey Jill, I have to say I enjoy the layering part too. But writing the initial story as bad and unlively as it is, is my favorite part.

Debby Giusti said...

Seems we think alike concerning onions, Shannon! :)

We'll miss you in Nashville. Hugs!

Shannon Taylor Vannatter said...

We do, Debby. Have fun.

Shannon Taylor Vannatter said...

Hey Meg,

Something I do when I get stuck on a book is go back and look at my GMC. Sometimes, I tweak it because I realize it's not strong enough and that's why I'm stuck. Has everyone read Goals, Motivation, and Conflict by Debra Dixon? An agent told me to read it a long time ago. I didn't. Then a paid critique/multi-published author told me to read it. I finally did and it changed my life. That book and Margie Lawson's EDITS system are the two things that got me to publishable level. The EDITS system taught me not only what goes in a book, but what shouldn't go in it. And Margie's not paying me to talk up her class :)

Tina Radcliffe said...

Nice!!! Love that Pinterest page.

Yes. I am a huge GMC fan. First Deb Dixon GMC book purchased in the mid-nineties. And a huge Michael Hauge fan.

Shannon Taylor Vannatter said...

Yep, I took a class by him too. Let's face it, I've taken classes from everyone. You have plenty of time to do that when it takes you 9 1/2 years to get published. But in my defense, I spent the 1st 3 years just writing, not taking classes, not going to conferences, not joining writers groups. Those drafts were REALLY BAD!!!

Vince said...

Hi Shannon:

You wrote:

"In my passes, though I look for everything at once."

I used to do it that way too when I was an advertising copywriting editor but I missed too many mistakes.

My old boss put it this way: "If you had to keep ten balls in the air, do you think you'd drop more of them than if you just had to juggle one ball?"

BTW: my passes can go very quickly. I can do many of them in just a few seconds a page. I never was any good at gestalt editing. : )


Boo Smelser said...

Yeah, I suppose I am a mixture of both, but I'm more a pantser than a plotter. And I'm glad I'm not the only one to fall in love with my heroes. Though I don't exactly fall in love with them- I have a type among my own very diverse heroes. So glad I'm not weird alone!

Vince said...

Hi Laura:

When proofreading you suggested:

"...reading from the bottom of the page up, and from right to left. Supposedly easier to catch some mistakes that way.."

That's a very good idea to catch the mistakes that your mind auto-corrects for you as you read. The mind often knows what is supposed to be on the page and puts it there for you. It tends to do this even more often when you wrote the copy in question yourself.

Another tip along this same line is squinting when looking at a full page newspaper ad. When you squint the mind tries so hard to see thru the squint that its auto-correct feature is mostly disabled.

Here's a real case. One Sunday I wrote a full page newspaper ad for a big sale. The biggest type in the ad, about two inches high, were the hours: 7 to 11. About ten executives and department heads signed-off on that ad! All of them mentally corrected the hours. The customers at home, did not! We had to open at 7 am that Sunday!

I always squinted after that. Also, I read lines backwards. I believe that if I had read the hours backwards, I would have caught the mistake. Thanks for your comment.


Shannon Taylor Vannatter said...

I need to clarify Vince. I look for everything at the same time, but I take one page at a time. So my passes are only one page. And some times I start on the last page, so I don't get caught up in the story.

Boo, I figure if I don't fall in love with my heroes, the reader won't either.

Bettie said...

Thank you for giving permission to write. I get to bogged down too easily trying to do everything at once. I love your style and would love to win your book.

Vince said...

Hi Shannon:

I do something else when writing which I call 'packing'. Some may find this idea helpful so I'll share it here.

Many writers endeavor to have each scene accomplish a story goal. Writers know that when a scene does not accomplish a goal or have a purpose, it can often be cut.

I have noticed that an individual scene can accomplish many additional goals.

Some mega-best-selling authors, like Baldacci, Child, and Connelly can achieve 4, 5, 6 and even more goals in a scene. With creative insight, adding these extra goals is sometimes achievable using the same number or even less words!

These extra objectives may require changing the scene's approach -- perhaps even the chapter.

Here are some examples: the choice of dialogue can tell the reader something about the character's emotional state, attitudes, education, and what part of the country that the character grew up.

A scene can provide a foundation for a future event. It can foreshadow an event. A scene can also add rewards for reading, provide 'sparkles', set up anticipatory events, conclude anticipatory events, reveal backstory, set a mood, mirror the environment, add an interesting 'factoid' or two, in short, it can add many more objectives which, done well, can greatly improve the overall richness of the writing. Again, it is possible for this to be done without increasing the word count -- that is, if it is done creatively. (Read: out of the box.)

By thinking in 'packing' mode, one might even discover that by using an alternate approach, three scenes might be better replaced with one shorter but more encompassing scene.

The key here is having a plan. That is, keeping a mental list of what a scene can accomplish at its maximum utilization and then trying to make one's own scenes as rich as possible.

'Packing' is just something else to think about. A good trial start at this would be to add one additional objective to each scene. Once you've seen positive results, 'packing' can become a habit. : )


Beth said...

Writing in layers. So that's what it's called. I do it too.

Shannon Taylor Vannatter said...

Bettie, I hope it gets you unbogged.

Vince, I've done that. Especially the replacing three scenes with one. Just didn't know what it was called. I'll have to remember that.

Beth, Glad you got your diagnosis :)

Shelli Littleton said...

Wow, Shannon. I've never heard of this approach. I like it. I fill in my rough draft more, but I still have to go back through to beef it up. Thank you for that.

Shannon Taylor Vannatter said...

That's a good way to put it, Shelli. Go back and beef it up.

Rebecca McLafferty said...

Hi Shannon, and thank you for this lesson. I tend to go over, and over, and over my work. Every time, I am adding more description and emotion. I so see myself doing this. It makes sense! I do need to stop myself and move on quicker than I do, but I'm working on it! Blessings and thank again! (P.S. Love LI!)

Shannon Taylor Vannatter said...

I've had to stop myself and make myself move on, Rebecca. I pretty much have a pattern now. Get the first draft done, go back and layer a page at a time. Reread. Layer more. Reread. And done.

But then I fiddle with it some more when I get revisions from my editor. On things she didn't even mark :)

Betti said...

I am a reader, not a writer, except for I found your method of writing fascinating. Thanks for sharing. It is always good for those of us who read, to learn more about the process of writing. Thanks for the giveaway - I would love to read the book :)

Shannon Taylor Vannatter said...

Hey Betti,
I was a reader first. As are most writers. For a while learning how to write ruined my reading experience. I kept revising as I went and thinking about how I'd write the story. I got over that after a few years and enjoy reading again, thank goodness.

Phyllis Wheeler said...

I'm more of a reader than a writer these days but when I do have a contract I am pretty disciplined and get it done. If I hit a block I go for a walk or take a small break doing something completely unrelated. Congratulations on your new book! Please enter me in the drawing.
May God bless you and all of Seekerville!

Shannon Taylor Vannatter said...

Hey Phyllis,
Walks are great for jiggling the brain loose. Mowing the yard works for me too. Or working on a completely different writing project. Keep reading. And writing.