Let’s continue with more guest posts! This week’s lovely contributor is T J Muir, here to discuss the layers in your story. She is another writer I met through the 85K Writing Challenge. (look at me being all social!)
Building layers into your story
by T J Muir
One of the things that often separates the majority of writing from the George Martin’s of the world- is the layers of world-building. Every corner of his literary map is completely filled in. It is essential to develop your world and your characters, we all appreciate that. One of the first things I remember learning about writing: for every fact a writer uses, there are ten facts sitting in their pocket.
This is great to have this wealth of character information to draw on, and weave into your stories. It is essential to have a close and real relationship with your main characters. They need to be and feel real to the writer, so that they will feel real, and will compel the reader.
But as a writer, I found that I can do better. I stumbled on this easy solution by accident. And it has raised my world-building and story to whole new levels. Originally, I started creating in depth character sheets for all my main characters. This helped give me some unique perspectives and concepts to play with. It became a layer that I could weave into my story. Nothing special there, I know.
But, I then applied this to my very minor characters. I began with a character who has only a couple of scenes- and likely would not reappear in any of the book/s. This was Otis. He shows up in one of my settings. He was a likeable enough fellow: a veteran of the war. I used him originally to fill a plot-crack, and then realized I could use him to delve into a few plot elements. That’s what minor characters do. I think they are a bit like wood putty, filling gaps and sealing things up snug.
But then I got a little more creative. I came about this in a roundabout way. I was listening to a promotional expert, who helps authors build platforms. From there, I decided that I wanted to put out a handful of short stories, that I could offer readers for free. These would serve as a peek inside, without giving away my main story.
And there was Otis- as well as a few other characters. So I created back stories for these characters. They all had very different backgrounds- and I also found ways of weaving these stories into my character’s paths. Otis’ story crosses paths with another lesser character in the main series- so the story serves to give insight into Nash.
When readers meet Nash, later, they will not need as much backstory, and the intentional discrepancies (Nash lies about who he is), should further pique interest and sympathy.
And I created Kijah, from a writing prompt challenge. She became so beloved, that I was compelled to work her into the main story- with a sub-plot all of her own. One of my stories, about a homeless orphan beggar, evolved into a novella-novel.
And I did all of this, simply by taking a closer look at characters who were the equivalent of “walk-on” roles. I built the world and environment up around these previously unknown blank spots.
Because of Jedda, I have a city with a whole developed social structure, and a layer of instability. For a writer, that’s fantastic, because it becomes something to work with. And it has done a lot of legwork painlessly and easily- that I will rely on later.
The same is true for my Kijah story. I developed a whole culture around flying (akin to hang gliders), and by the end of that story, I could look down to book three of the series and know where this would play out.
So as a writer, it is hugely beneficial to leave the map behind. As writers, we can become tunnel-focused on our main characters, and their journeys. When that happens, we can lose track of the layers that create a richer backdrop for those stories to play out against.
As a result of this process, I have changed the visual image I hold over my characters. They are not an arrow, shot toward a destination or goal. It is more like a billiard table, or pinball machine. In this case, the world-aspects that evolve, and the minor characters that move through the same world- act like a billiard ball, that can knock into our cluster of characters. Sometimes this may create a bit of chaos- but chaos is interesting! Also, with a bit of practice, you can become adept at aiming those minor characters with finesse. You develop a sense of knowing precisely where to aim a previously minor character for just the desired effect.
The end result, you will have a much closer connection to your entire world and story- looking at it from outside eyes that are fresh. And, when you do this, you will have the added benefit of short stories that can serve as marketing tools as well. It is a fun and interesting way to delve down deeper into your craft and make it even more compelling to readers.
PS: Do keep an eye out for her book that will be coming out. It’s called Before The Luck Runs Out.
A big thank you to T J Muir for kindly being this week’s guest poster! I hope you enjoyed this article and do please make sure to visit her pages. Let’s show some love to other writers. Do check back, I will be adding a link to her new website when it’s up and running.
You can catch my own post on Friday as normal, around 18:30 BST.
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