Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Got Layers?

Despite the yummy photo, this is not a post about layers of cake. Sorry. Today, I’m talking plot layers--not as many calories. Do you take note of a character’s plot layers when you’re writing or reading? I don’t always consciously take note of these layers as much as I should. So, I revisited some of my favorite writing books (not cookbooks).

A plot layer is a plot line given to a character, usually the protagonist (as compared to a subplot, which is a secondary plot line involving different, usually secondary characters). More than one plot line is necessary to create a character with depth, intensity, and complexity. To me, this translates into a character that comes alive. My favorite kind of character.

For example, imagine a high school freshman a tad on the insecure side. Let’s say he’s on the school track team and struggling to achieve better times in his sprints. He loves running and competing, but most of his friends are not into track. So, our protagonist's love of track is causing conflicts with his friends. Maybe he finds himself often torn between training and hanging out with his buddies. On top of this, let's say that our freshman’s parents don’t like the direction that his friends are going in. The parents suspect the friends will be getting our protagonist into trouble. He can’t afford trouble if he wants to stay on the track team, and keep his parents content, but he’s had these friends forever. In addition, maybe our protagonist is also sporting a major crush on a certain girl. How about if he knows she’d be impressed if he won his races?

Our freshman protagonist is dealing with layers of internal and external conflicts. Isn’t this the way with most of us? There are plenty of plot layers for everyone that I know. To be real is to have layers.

Think about your favorite characters from your reading or writing. Do they have layers?

Okay, NOW it's time for cake. ; )


  1. You are so wrong for posting that scrumptious picture. Now I must have cheesecake ASAP. :)

    I love figuring out the layers in novels for plot and characters. They teach me so much and helps me apply it to my own writing.

  2. You are making me hungry! :)
    Luckily when Jon and I were plotting our novel, we did consider the layers. I hope our main character is very multifaceted with some conflicts to attend to!
    I seriously want cake now.

  3. Yay - cake! Yes, layers are so important in creating a multi-dimensional character - I really need to pay more attention to how other authors do this.

  4. Great post! I agree . . . those are always the best characters and stories.

    And nice to meet you! So glad you found my blog so I could find yours. :)

  5. It's in the situations our characters have to deal with that we see the depth of their personalities. Food for thought!

  6. oh and I thought you were going to post a yummy new recipe! But I love me lots of plot layers as well. :D I think the more layers a story has, the more i fall in love with it.

  7. That cake looks delish, and now I'm going to crave it all night. Shame on you!

    I hope I'm adding layers through my stories. I don't consciously do it, but it seems to happen naturally.

  8. How was that cheesecake, Karen? : ) I agree that figuring out the layers in the novels of others can teach us so much.

    Kelly, your novel with Jon sounds great. I loved your Big Foot post!

    Hi, Susan! Sounds like we'll both be paying more attention to layers.

    Thanks, Janet! I'm so glad you stopped by.

    Great point, J.L. Illustrating the depth is so important, I think.

    Aaaa, maybe a recipe next week, Nutschell. : )

    Sorry about the cake, Julie. I promise not to post any more yummy pictures for a while. And I work as you do: I don't consciously add layers, but they seem to happen naturally while I'm doing everything else that needs to be done.

  9. Excellent, cake!

    I think good plot layers makes for a rich story. Like cake! Such an apt metaphor.

    Glad I met you and your blog too!

  10. P.S. So I'm going to tag you tomorrow. Just so you know. :)

  11. Ha! Exactly like cake, Lydia. Thanks!

    And tagged. Thank you, Janet! : )

  12. I love plot layers. I can always tells when a story is missing a layer or two. I also look for layers when I'm outlining. Sometimes even after the draft, if I feel like something is missing I throw on another layer.

  13. And that's what I'm going for, Medeia--to be more conscious of missing layers while I am reading. But like you, I do search for opportunities to add layers when outlining. Great comment! Thanks.

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  15. As a fairly new writer, I'm just learning about layers. Thanks for the good example. Have a great week!

  16. Welcome, Michelle! I'm so glad that this post was helpful. Hope you have a great week, too!