Layering Your Draft Part Two: Let’s Bake A Novel

  Aprons are highly recommended.

Aprons are highly recommended.

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Before I go much farther into writing-as-baking, I feel like I have to put my money where my metaphor is. I can’t tell you to run out and buy an apron until I show you how this works in a stripped-down, practical way.

If you’ll remember from the previous post, I don’t really love the idea of separating rough draft and revision. Pretty much all writing includes some of each—most writers do some revision in early drafts, and pretty much all revisions include new writing.

Instead of starting with the idea of a rough draft to bash through, let’s start with this: whatever writing gets you into the story. For some writers, this might be a first full pass that they write quickly and then use as a jumping off point, but for others it will be extensive pre-writing. Maybe a few chapters or important scenes. For others it will be writing their way into the story for as long as it takes to figure the basics out, and then starting back at the beginning. This process might stay the same, or vary from novel to novel.

I’m going to call this searching for your ingredients. You’re gathering up what you need to tell the story. When you go looking in the kitchen, you might find some things easily, while others take significantly more cupboard rummaging. You might discover that you have the ingredients to make something slightly different, which is even MORE exciting than your original idea. Or you might realize you are missing something important (no baking soda = no conflict to raise the stakes)—and you have to decide if you want to put in the time to get that missing ingredient, or if you want to adjust your plans.

  Your novels will be the wordy equivalent of this. I promise.

Your novels will be the wordy equivalent of this. I promise.

Then you start baking.

The layers will involve different amounts of work—some full passes, some fast passes, some where you only look at the scenes affected if you’re talking about a secondary character or a subplot.

Here is a (simplified) list of layers that I’ve done on a novel:


  1. Voice and setting
  2. Main character
  3. Plot and structure
  4. Removing a story element that isn’t working
  5. Missing plot details
  6. Narrative tightness and pacing
  7. Main character’s arc driving the story
  8. Emotional climaxes got wonky–work on these
  9. Smoothing out the language and narrative pace
  10. Secondary character dangerously underdeveloped!
  11. Working in suggestions from an edit letter
  12. Timeline issues
  13. Working in feedback about another secondary character
  14. Yet more editorial feedback
  15. Copyedits!

(If you’re feeling really ambitious you can assign a flavor to each of your layers. I definitely have a dark chocolate setting in my new novel.)

One of the best things about this method is that it responds to the needs of the manuscript and the editing process. It’s infinitely flexible. Some novels require multiple passes to work on character; others have tricky plots. Some have lots of research layers that need to be incoporated. This also allows a writer to focus on their story elements, taking time to craft them without the pressure of fixing everythingatonce.

Which, to me, sounds delicious.

-Amy Rose

PS Next time, I’ll talk about the magic of character layers.

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