Monday, April 06, 2009

Julie Elizabeth Leto on Layering

What I'm reading: Long Lost, by Harlan Coben, RWA chapter contest entries.

Saturday, author Julie Elizabeth Leto was a guest speaker at our RWA chapter meeting. She spoke about "The Art of Layering: How to Write Faster AND Better." I'll share my notes here, interspersed with some of my own reflections.

The technique came about, she explained, when she was working full time and had only a short window available in which to get her writing goals accomplished each day. Rather than flounder, especially when she'd see the clock ticking away and anxiety interfered with getting the words down, she started writing only the dialogue. That way, she had a framework for her next writing session.

Her system covers four different layers, and particularly resonated with me because I find that system works for me, even though I'm not writing in a controlled amount of time. As a matter of fact, her handout resembled my own Dialogue Basics handout (still available on my website), although hers takes the 'whole book' approach, rather than only the dialogue portions. Then again, there's more to dialogue than the words the characters say.

So – her system:

First -- get the dialogue down.

Keep Reading...

Second – add setting details. Don't start the book with lots of description. Work it into the scene as needed.

Or, as Elmore Leonard said, "Never Open a Book with the Weather."

Next – write the action. She stressed that in a romance novel, the most important part is REACTION. Reacting is where you can show emotions and trickle in back story. Show it when it's relevant, and when it will heighten the emotional level, for both the character and the reader.

And the last layer – this is where she'll add the sexual tension, the sensual aspects, and descriptions.

Leto also talked about the editing, which is where she says one adds texture to the book. This is where the author's voice shows through. And where you have to be able to step back and trim what's not needed. Her hint: Look at the last sentence of your paragraph. Is it needed. Too often, it's merely a recap -- telling what you've already shown.

As she puts it, Write Hot, Edit Cold. The editing process needs to be ruthless.

And her three "Rules" which she says are posted above her computer:

1. Don't get it right, get it written.
2. You can't fix a blank page.
3. Give yourself permission to write crap.

(Note: these are Julie Leto's versions, but most likely can be attributed to 1) a city editor for a NY magazine, 2) Nora Roberts, 3) Anne Lamott.

Her parting words: Writing should be hard. If it isn't, you're not doing it right. She said any author who tells you her editor rarely requires edits or revisions is either lying, or has a lazy editor. There's always a way to make it better.

Come back tomorrow when author Linda Swift has fun with the language barrier between English and American.


Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Teri! Thanks for sharing your notes. I write in layers too. I didn't realize that for many books and then the light went on. Once I knew what and how to edit in, my books started selling. I love seeing how other people write. I guess, in some small way, it makes me feel less weird!

Terry Odell said...

Ah yes, Maggie - the weirdness factor. My favorite part about hanging with other authors is that it goes away, and I can feel normal.

Anonymous said...


What an excellent article! I agree with it totally. If we start writing thinking everything must be perfect from the beginning, we'd never finish a novel. I do so much revision and never regret it.

Jacqueline Seewald
just released! THE DROWNING POOL, Five Star/Gale

Mary Ricksen said...

Great advise, looking forward to tomorrow.

Kathye Quick said...

I also have a limited amount of time to write each day, and sometimes can't do the every day thing. Your notes really helped. I plan on using the steps starting today.

Kathye Quick
9whose blog title somehow ended up as her signature!)

Terry Odell said...

Jacqueline - yes, knowing it's all in the rewriting helps get the first draft out there.

Mary, looking forward to seeing you tomorrow

Kathye - glad to share, and glad it helped

Maryann Miller said...

Great advice. Thanks for hosting Julie for this, Terry. I have started scenes with just dialogue for a long time as that is what usually comes to me first. When I go back to add the next layers, I will often leave the first few lines of dialogue as the opening of a chapter as that gives a real sense of immediacy to the scene. But I don't do that with every chapter as I think that would get tiresome for the reader. Variety works. :-)

Nightingale said...

I'm glad I happened to see the post and dropped by. Waiting til tomorrow for the rest.

Dara Edmondson said...

I enjoyed the workshop, too. Made lots of sense. Thanks for the recap.

Katie Reus said...

Thanks for the notes Terry! I was so bummed to miss the last meeting!

Anonymous said...

I love the idea of layering, and it reminds me of Margie Lawson's edit system. Either way, you're finding those elements of your text. INTERESTING. Thanks for posting, Terry!

Terry Odell said...

Nightingale, glad you found the place, and hope you enjoy Linda's post.

Dara, good program indeed.

Katie, I hope my abbreviated notes helped. I only covered a fraction of what she said during the workshop.

Drue - always glad to share craft tips.