Ogres have layers and novel writing does too.

English: A night sight of the Notre Dame de Pa...

Image via Wikipedia

When I was young, I had the opportunity to travel to France on a school trip. At the time I was heavily interested in art. It was my high school major. The technique behind art never interested me, it was always the passion, and the meaning put into the pieces that interested me more.

While in Paris one day, we were booked in for a tour of Notre Dame. Our coach let us off at about 11:30 in the morning. We stood in front of it admiring the scenery while our teacher went to find the tour guide that was meant to be taking us around that day. Sat on a tiny folding stool with nothing else but an easel and some watercolours was an artist who was just beginning to paint their scene. I stood back and watched as they got out their fattest brush and began flooding the top half of the paper very lightly in blue and the bottom half in a very light reddish brown. Ten more minutes passed the breeze had blown the majority of the paper dry so they then added in the general shape of Notre Dame. That was all I could watch because the tour of the outside of the cathedral was starting.

About thirty minutes later we made our way back around to the front again. The artist had added details the building, trees gently appeared, buildings in the surrounding area had been roughly painted. It was starting to look like the scene in front of me. We were given thirty minutes to have our lunch before we were to reassemble and have a tour of the inside. I went off in search of bread and cheese, the only two things I ate the entire time I was in France aside from crepes and coffee ice cream.

With a full belly, I returned to the artist. His painting had nearly been completed. There were people mulling around in the area and he had roughly captured some of them. The trees were more detailed and the stain glass window had its colour added to it. Unfortunately, our indoor tour last nearly an hour and by the time we returned to the street the artist was gone so I did not get to see the finished work.

Writers are artists. Our work can be built in layers too. The painter had captured Notre Dame by layering in the visual scenes slowly until the picture was a good representation of what was going on around the cathedral that day. Writers do it with words.

Blogging has help to evolve my writing and the way I write over the past year. I have learned much from the community we have here. I started out as a total pantser, writing only from the heart, to becoming a plotter. This is still evolving but each time it does I become happier with my writing results.

My first layer of a novel is the bones of the story, it starts with the idea and builds out to become the who and the where kind of stuff. It takes the form of loose chapter outlines with some scene planning. I put dabbles of research or links to research in and it sounds more like a work of non fiction when I read it. For me this layer of novel writing is averaging between 5k to 10k words in whole. Much of which becomes eaten up in the next layer of writing itself. It is drab and boring but is the central layer in which the entire rest of the novel will expand from.

The next layers are where I build on the scenes. They get description. It is very sensory for me. I can see, hear, taste, smell and feel the scenes. Each scene leads on to the next building on and adding to the story. This is my favourite part of novel writing. I can get into the writing zone and the words flow freely. I do not worry about spelling, grammar or punctuation during this layer building process.  I just write. My word counts grow and I have a large amount of material to work with.

The last layers are the packaging layers. They are the things that are added to make it sound nicer, those little details and finishing touches. This is done during the editing sweeps. The first sweep is for fixing those errors in grammar, spelling and punctuation. The next sweep adds in the furniture, other people who are not in the scene but in the background of it, and the characters personality begins to come through in more detail. I clean up the dialogue adding actions to it where needed. These sweeps both add and take away words. This is the hardest stage for me, it is the one in which I never feel is completely done.

So there you have it like in Shrek, ogres have layers and novel writing does too.

What about you? How do you build your layers?


About Billie Jo Schinnerer

Born and raised on the edge of the Helderberg Escarpment in eastern New York. Formerly a teacher. Moved to the North West area of England in 2003. Now a mother of three who doesn’t really know what she wants to be when she grows up.
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12 Responses to Ogres have layers and novel writing does too.

  1. StoriesAndSweetPotatoes says:

    Great story and post. I feel the same way always wondering what the artist or writer was feeling when creating something. A beautiful piece of art or a well crafted story can fall flat if I can sense the lack of passion behind it. It’s odd that sometimes I can and probably I’m often wrong but if that passion doesn’t translate through something went wrong along the way. I think passion is the first layer, or the core, and that needs to be fully developed and understood before it can be built upon.

    • I always hear the phrases write what you know or write the story you want to read when people ask what story should I write. I believe this is the innate reason for that answer. If you write what you know or write what you want to read then perhaps you will do it with passion.

      For me when I become passionate about something. It keeps speaking to me. When it does this so much that I cannot stand it any longer then I write it to set it free.

  2. Great post, Billie Jo. I love how you describe your process, and how you discovered it through practice and experience. It’s fascinating to listen (or in my case, watch, over the course of my workshop) how writers develop their novels and stories. Each is unique, and brings something intensely personal to their novel writing.
    As I read this post I thought about my own process, of course, and there is an aspect of building on layers, brick by brick, level by level, as you say. The more we learn about our characters, the more we realize what they will do in situations, and so plot is born, or developed.

    ” I do not worry about spelling, grammar or punctuation during this layer building process. I just write. My word counts grow and I have a large amount of material to work with.”

    I love that part of it too. It’s so exciting. 🙂

    • Thank you, Cynthia. It must be interesting to see the different processes people use to write in those workshops. I know that I am willing to try new techniques, tools, etc that I have not tried before. Sometimes they work for me and sometimes they don’t. Writing is a process and how a writer tackles writing is as well.

  3. Pete Denton says:

    Great post. I like to work in a similar way. The first draft of a story is just getting the bones down and the main plot points I want to cover. 2nd draft is adding the meat to the bones and subsequent drafts are the finer touches. Nice to read how other writers go through the process.

    • Thanks Pete! Well they do say great minds…

      Like I said to Cynthia, it is interesting seeing how others tackle writing. I do think that what works for one person will totally throw another person’s rhythm off.

      • Pete Denton says:

        True. It is about finding what works for you and sometimes hearing about what other people do gives you a little bit of inspiration to tweak your writing routine for the better. 🙂

  4. Aw, I can’t believe you didn’t get to see the finished painting! I wonder where it is today.

    • There were so many painters in the city doing different paintings of famous scenes and then selling them to tourists. I am not sure if that painter was one of them but if he was, it could be anywhere in the world. Amazing to think!

  5. Pingback: Monday’s Top 10 | The Happy Logophile

  6. Interesting. Hemingway claimed that he learned more about writing from studying painting than from other writers.

    I write serially, and I post as I write, so I’m never working on the whole canvas at once. Right now I’m posting a new story. I think it will have four or five parts. The first part is almost done. A lot of the second part is written in my notebook. After that, I have a few notes and scenes, but that’s it.

    • I never heard that about Hemingway, that is interesting.

      I suppose if you write serially, it would be hard to look at the entire piece at once. Although, when I write shorter pieces or blog posts, I have noticed I write in a similar way to when I write my novels but obviously on a smaller scale.

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