Friday, May 18, 2018

Layering In Texture and Emotion

Hello everyone, Winnie Griggs here.

Today I want to talk about my favorite part of the writing process.  Once I finish the first draft of a book, I get to dig into the polishing phase. In addition to cleaning things up and making sure there are no loose threads I forgot to wrap up, this is the phase where I go in and look for ways to layer in texture and emotion.



Texture is about specificity. It includes the specific detail you need to include in order to convey feelings, color, atmosphere, setting – in other words, it’s about allowing your readers to immerse themselves in your scene with all of their senses. To do this you add descriptors and sensory words, but you do this with surgical precision – too much and you risk bloating your prose, too little and you miss opportunities to paint a vivid picture for your reader.




I always do better with examples, so I’m going to draw from the opening of one of my books, A Matter Of Trust.

Here is the stripped down, bare bones version:

“The preacher’s cat is an elegant cat.”
“The preacher’s cat is a frightened cat.”
“The preacher’s cat is a gregarious cat.”
“Gregarious.”  Toby drew the word out.  “What does that mean, Ma?”
Lucy Ames smiled down at the boy walking beside her. 
“It means to be sociable, to want to be part of a group of other folk rather than off by yourself all the time.” 
“Oh.”
Lucy watched him mentally file away her definition.  Her sweet little boy. 
She stepped over a root and paused while Toby studied a beetle.  They’d been strolling along for about thirty minutes, and the creek crossing was just up ahead.  Some of the choicest blackberries in the county grew there. 
Once they’d picked enough for Lucy to make a cobbler or two, they’d eat the picnic lunch she’d packed. 
A noisy commotion from somewhere up ahead caught her attention.
Toby whispered,  “What’s that?”
I told you it was bare bones - not much sense of place or anything else here - mainly just talking heads.

Now here it is after I add in a texturing layer (noted in blue text):

“The preacher’s cat is an elegant cat.”
“The preacher’s cat is a frightened cat.”
“The preacher’s cat is a gregarious cat.”
“Gregarious.”  Toby drew the word out as he stretched the band on his slingshot.  “What does that mean, Ma?”
Lucy Ames smiled down at the boy walking beside her. 
“It means to be sociable, to want to be part of a group of other folk rather than off by yourself all the time.”   Lucy pointed to the floppy-eared dog capering along beside them.  “For example, Jasper here is very gregarious, but Mustard, for all his skills as a mouser, isn’t.” 
“Oh.”
Lucy watched him mentally file away her definition.  Her sweet little boy. 
Then she hitched her shoulder, shifting the weight of the basket she carried.  It was a beautiful day here in the dappled shade of the woods, and they had an afternoon of picnicking and berry picking ahead of them.
She stepped over a knobby root and paused while Toby and Jasper studied a large beetle lumbering up the side of a hickory treeShe inhaled, drawing in the scent of pine needles and just a hint of honeysuckle.  They’d been strolling along this leaf-carpeted trail through the woods for about thirty minutes, and the creek crossing was just past the bit of heavy brush up ahead.  Some of the choicest blackberries in the county grew there. 
Once they’d picked enough for Lucy to make a cobbler or two, they’d eat the picnic lunch she’d packed. 
A noisy commotion from somewhere up ahead caught her attention.
Toby whispered,  “What’s that?”
This version is a bit better. Hopefully I’ve added enough detail here to give the reader a sense of place, enough to help her really visualize the setting.

But we can do better. Where Texture is all about grounding the reader in your scene, Emotion is about subtext, nuance, feelings, mood – in other words, it’s about allowing your readers to engage with the characters in your story.




Using the same scene, here is how I layered in the emotion (again in blue text):

“The preacher’s cat is an elegant cat.”
“The preacher’s cat is a frightened cat.”
“The preacher’s cat is a gregarious cat.”
“Gregarious.”  Toby drew the word out as he stretched the band on his slingshot.  “What does that mean, Ma?”
Lucy Ames smiled down at the boy walking beside her.  The Preacher’s Cat was a favorite game of Toby’s.  He collected new words like other six-year-olds collected rocks and bugs.
“It means to be sociable, to want to be part of a group of other folk rather than off by yourself all the time.”   Lucy pointed to the floppy-eared dog capering along beside them.  “For example, Jasper here is very gregarious, but Mustard, for all his skills as a mouser, isn’t.” 
“Oh.”
Lucy watched him mentally file away her definition.  Her sweet, curious, intelligent little boy, so precious to her.  Now that her mother was gone, he was all she had that truly mattered.
Her smile faltered at that reminder, and she pressed a hand lightly against her bodice, comforted by the feel of her mother’s locket, cool against her skin.  Then she hitched her shoulder, shifting the weight of the basket she carried.  It was a beautiful day, tranquil here in the dappled shade of the woods, and they had an afternoon of picnicking and berry picking ahead of them. Time to concentrate on her blessings, not her losses.
She stepped over a knobby root and paused while Toby and Jasper studied a large beetle lumbering up the side of a hickory tree. She inhaled, drawing in a feeling of serenity along with the scent of pine needles and just a hint of honeysuckle.   There was no need to hurry, no sense of urgency.  After all, the walk was as much a part of the outing as the destination.  They’d been strolling along this leaf-carpeted trail through the woods for about thirty minutes, and the creek crossing was just past the bit of heavy brush up ahead.  Some of the choicest blackberries in the county grew there. 
Once they’d picked enough for Lucy to make a cobbler or two, Toby’s favorite treat, they’d eat the picnic lunch she’d packed.  Afterwards, they could wiggle their toes in the creek, or look for cloud pictures, or--
A noisy commotion from somewhere up ahead caught her attention. At the same time, Toby reached for her hand.  “Ma,” he whispered,  “What’s that?”

In the above version, I’ve added in the cues to let you in on what the characters are felling, how they view the world around them and each other. I’ve given you more reason to care about them and reason to feel things more deeply when their peace is shattered, which it will be in the next few paragraphs 😊.

Adding layers to your story is not difficult, but it does take a deft touch.  It’s important to pay attention to your story as a whole, but especially those key scenes in your story. Give your readers layers to discover, to absorb, to delight in. And they will reward you by returning to your writing again and again.



So now it's your turn.  Do you have any tips on how you go about adding layers to your work? Any examples you find particularly well done?

Comment below to be added into a drawing for a copy of A Matter Of Trust, the book I drew my example from. Or, if you prefer, you can select any book from my backlist.


A MATTER OF TRUST

Texas, 1892 - He’s a man with a mission...
When Lucy Ames rescues a stranger from being beaten and robbed, she can’t just leave the man to die. But with her reputation in town already in tatters, how can she take this wounded man into her home? All she can do is what’s right…and hope for the best. Unlike Lucy, Toby, her little boy, is delighted to have a man in the house. As much as Lucy wants the man gone, she can’t begrudge Toby the kind of father figure he’s never had before. 

On a self-assigned mission to locate his nephew, Reed Wilder can’t believe his luck when he realizes his beautiful rescuer is the strumpet who beguiled his arrow-straight brother. But she’s not at all what he expected. She’s independent and feisty and…captivating. 

Before either of them realize it, Lucy and Reed fall in love. But how can their relationship survive the secrets that plague them both?



47 comments:

  1. Good morning! This example is great. I enjoyed seeing your layering process and can see how it can help my writing. My writing tends to be more conversation than layered and textured so this will help.

    Please enter my name in the drawing. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Hi Bettie, always happy to help! And never fear, great dialog is a solid base to build from.

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  2. What a perfect way to illustrate layering and how to make the most of a scene, Winnie. And Blogger didn't mess it up!!!

    You've not only got a way with words, you have a way with Blogger!

    This is going to be crazy helpful for so many. Thank you!

    And do you hear "Laurel" or "Yanni"?

    I'm pretty sure this is a trick to get us all talking about nothing, but I have to say...

    I hear "Yanni".

    Why is that???

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    1. LOL on pulling off my formatting in blogger - that has more to do with luck than skill :)

      And I'm definitely in the Yanni camp, though half of my family heard Laurel

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    2. I heard both at different times of the day using different devices and different locations. I heard one thing at home and another in the large sanctuary the other night after church. It's in the frequency/pitch/device, etc. (according to my pitch-perfect-musical sister-in-law). But I was happy to hear both.

      But crazy interesting once I heard both and knew that neither I (nor my friends) were going bonkers. My hubby and MIL heard "Jerry". Okay....

      Back to the drawing board on crazy! lol

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    3. I heard Yanni yesterday morning. But Michelle played one last night that was Laurel. I promise you they must be different!!! There's no way they could be the same recording. :)

      Oh, and someone else heard Yammi. Crazy. It's shades of blue and gold (dress). LOL

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  3. Thank you, Winnie. This has been a good week for craft-related posts. I'm still mulling Debby's from Wednesday. It inspired me to be more INTENTIONAL in my process. I do all the right stuff, I just don't always know why -- or how to explain it to other people.
    Winnie, good stuff. I always go back and layer in smell, touch, sound and even taste, if I can get away with it. I also try to buff up sensory detail, without going overboard. One way I do that is to have a character actively react to a situation. For example, in a hoarder's house, she doesn't just see it visually, she bumps her knee on an old appliance.
    I always try to make the POV character always feel something, even if someone else is onstage. For example, my Oregon Trail sequel has a subplot about racial inequality in the settlement, and I have a couple's house burned down because they befriended the black family. My POV character is Irish and as she surveys the blackened ruins in horror, she reflects back to the oppression in her homeland. I'm not about to let her get away without feeling something!
    I'll be doing some layering today, so this is timely.
    Kathy Bailey

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    1. Hi Kaybee, it sounds like you are already on top of this. Love your examples of how you let the readers experience the texture and emotion through the POV character - an example of one way to show rather than tell

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  4. Woe! This post is the perfect explanation why I am just a reader! Winnie, you definite know how to use texture and emotion to make us want to read more of your story. Great post and I would love to read more of A Matter of Trust.
    Ruthy, thank goodness! I also hear Yanni and I have been in the minority.
    Blessings!
    Connie
    cps1950(at)gmail(dot)com

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    1. Wow is what I tried to say!!

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    2. Thanks for the kind words. And we love that you're a reader!

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    3. Connie, no such thing as "just" a reader.

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  5. The Laurel and Yanni thing reminds me of when we had a Beatles album and everybody said if we played it real slow we could hear someone say "Paul is dead" or some such. I refuse to engage.

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  6. Winnie, I also like "layering" because it means the bones of the story are already there.
    This is a good week for writers' blogs. Yours have tended toward craft, of which we can never have too much, and over on Writers Alley Sherrinda has done a good inspirational post about doubt. What would we do without each other.

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    1. I agree, you have to have a solid foundation to build on or none of this works effectively

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  7. I am at this stage now. It is a learning curve. But I am enjoying making the story come alive. Thanks for this post.

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    1. As I said, this is my favorite part of the writing process :)

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  8. I’ve loved every post this week! Thank you for showing your layering process too, Winnie. It’s so helpful to we beginners. I find I need to take a couple passes through to make sure I have the inner emotions there at all the right ooints

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    1. You're quite welcome, Laurie. I'm so happy you fond something in the post that spoke to you.

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  9. Winnie, love this. This is the way I write. I sometimes refer to it as the bones, then I start added the layers and layers and layers.

    But you make it look so easy. Great example!

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    1. LOL. Pam, I NEVER said it was easy. This particular passage went through numerous iterations before I was satisfied with it.

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  10. This is a great post, Winnie, and one I'll refer back to often!

    And your examples are perfect. I can see the setting and your POV character's emotions! It's something I strive for in my own writing, and I want to be more intentional about it.

    Thanks!

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    1. Thanks Jan - that means a lot coming from you. And yes, some of this will happen organically as you write your first draft, but you need to be intentional about it when you're doing the layering passes.

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  11. Hi Winnie:

    Thanks for a very important post! In addition to all its other advantages, I believe layering is a key to establishing a desirable writer's voice. Anatole France once said that "The first six revisions anyone could have written but the seventh: that's Anatole France."

    I have my own writer's beatitude: :"Blessed are those who love to layer for they shall be called published."

    I look at layering as passes through the copy. For example: I do a 'rewards layer' or pass through. There are at least twenty ways to reward a reader for reading your copy. I look to see if I can add more rewards without adding more words or just a few more words.

    I also do an 'opportunity' pass to see if I can accomplish any more story objectives in a scene. I call this 'scene packing'.

    A scene can accomplish the story objective intended but it can also achieve many more objectives at the same time if the writer is a scene plotter. In Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" he accomplishes three to four story objectives in each scene -- not just one objective. (There are 60 scenes in this 90 minute movie.) This can make a 90 minute movie pack the entertainment power of a much longer movie. Marion Chesney (now M.C. Beaton) did this packing so well that her 160 page Regency Romances had the richness of well written 300 page novels. This ability is much better rewarded and needed in writing mystery stories of which M. C. Beaton is now famous.

    In a way, I think a great writer is like a great architect in that the craft has little to do with writing or drafting per se but and most to do with ingenious creativity in maximizing what can be done beyond what has to be done.

    Thanks again. You've got me in the mood to work on the first drafts of some of my WIPs.

    Vince

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    1. Hi Vince. I love the way you approach layering as rewards and opportunity passes. Imay have to try putting myself in that mindset and do an additional pass

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    2. Vince, I also now feel compelled to make a pass over a manuscript! :)

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  12. Thank you very much for sharing this. The use of the example was very helpful. Thanks, again.

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    1. Tammie, you're quite welcome - glad you found it helpful

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    2. Tammie, I too, loved the examples! I learn better by example.

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  13. It's always so helpful to see how other people write so you can learn new techniques. Thanks :-)

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    1. I so agree Jenna. I learn a lot from other writers, the other folks on this blog especially!

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  14. What a great post, Winnie, and very timely for me. I have finished the first draft of my book and need to go back through again. I am done with subbing this Tuesday and will have the summer to work on my second pass. This is going to be very helpful, as texturing and emotion are exactly what I need to do.

    Please enter me for this book. Your excerpt has got my attention!

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    1. Hi Sandy. Congratulations on getting that first draft done! to me that's the hard part. the rest is sun and games :)

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  15. Another excellent post, Winnie. One chock full of useful information. This is one of those must-print-out-an-review-often posts. So helpful. Thanks, Winnie!

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  16. This is VERY helpful break down. Thank you! (P.S. I just won something here, so give another a chance!) Amy

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    1. You're quite welcom Amy - glad you found it helpful :)

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  17. Hi Winnie, this is a great post. Definitely a keeper. All of this week's posts have been so helpful, and you finished the week strong for Seekerville.

    Thanks so much for sharing!

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    1. Thanks Jackie - so honored to be part of your keeper file.

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  18. Winnie, I love this! And I love the examples. They show, so concretely, what you're talking about.

    I loved this quote. You said: To do this you add descriptors and sensory words, but you do this with surgical precision – too much and you risk bloating your prose, too little and you miss opportunities to paint a vivid picture for your reader.

    That's such a good point. It can take time to get to where we find the perfect balance!

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    1. Thanks Missy! I'm a visual learner so I also love when examples are used to illustrate a point - that's why I've started trying to incorporate them in my posts

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  19. What lovely examples that explain things so beautifully! I tend to learn best when I'm shown something rather than just being told about it.

    Thanks so much, Winnie!

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    1. Thanks Erica! As I said above, since I'm a visual learner, I always liking having examples to drive home a point.

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  20. Hi Winnie! Although I'm not a writer, I always enjoy reading the Seekerville posts. I found your post very interesting and informative. Thanks for sharing your expertise!

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    1. You're quite welcome - thanks for stopping by.

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