Tuesday, April 17, 2012

How important are plot layers to stories?

I am reading Literary Agent Donald Maass’ Writing the BREAKOUT NOVEL workbook. I had ordered it on Flipkart (the Indian version of Amazon) in October, it was delivered at my doorstep within 5 days, I have started going through it just few days back.

Initially, I was very hesitant to read the book as I was scared that it would make me suspicious of my own MS. I am half way through the book and let me tell you that it is a wonderful tool that helps us write better.

One thing that I was delighted to read was about adding plot layers to a story. I had heard a lot about this tool: plot layers to enhance a story.  Many people may mistake a subplot and a layer. Maass has explained subplot as plot lines given to different characters while layers are plot lines given to the same character.

Maass talks about a plot being layered when more than one thing is happening simultaneously to the hero/heroine. He has a murder to solve, and at the same time his father is dying of cancer. Why not add a further layer? He is searching for the soul of Mozart’s piano concerti. What is it that gives them their power, their drive? He has to know, so along the way he achieves that insight, too. Thus, there are levels of problems to utilize: public problems, personal problems and secondary problems. Small mysteries, nagging questions, dangling threads- those also can be woven into the plot.

The argument behind adding more plot layers is that it reflects the multitiered complexity that most people feel is the condition of life today. 

I think my MS has maximum 3 plot layers, that too by accident. My protagonist has a main problem and two small complications. That’s it. What about all your protagonists. Do they have plenty of problems to wade through in the course of your stories? How many plot layers have you added to your stories? Do you agree with the view that the more plot layers the richer a story becomes? What is your opinion about it?

As I will be busy with some personal work, my next post will be on Tuesday  24th April. Till then, keep writing.

22 comments:

Rahul Bhatia said...

Rachna, this lovely post reminds me of the movie 'Inception' where the concept of layered dreams was introduced! The plot definitely becomes interesting with this multi layered approach!

mooderino said...

I think the difficult comes in tying the layers together so they feel part of the dame person and the same story. can be quite tricky.

mood
Moody Writing
@mooderino
The Funnily Enough

Dave King said...

This post - like all of your posts on this blog - is totally engaging.

Richard said...

As long as the layers relate to the main story line of the main character, it should add depth and dimension to the story. Well worth the effort.

Robyn Campbell said...

As long as he writer weaves the layers together precisely ,then they have done their job.

We have to weave together the plot, plot layers and sub-plots. Those three plot components have to be connected. Maass is a genius, Rachna. As you can tell, I have read it too.

Have a nice time off. I'm taking a blog break the first two weeks of May. *waving*

Shallee said...

I LOVE Donald Maass' books. When I first read Writing the Breakout Novel, the idea of layers struck me too. I've tried to work more layers into my own books, and it's amazing how much richer it makes the story. I think if you try too hard, you can just make things confusing, but if you can make it work, it brings an amazing layer of depth!

Lydia Kang said...

Hope you get lots of work done, Rachna!
Those plot layers are torturing me right now. They're so imperfect in a first draft. :(

cherie said...

I love plot layers. My MC has 3 major layers, I think (her mental health, her relationship with her family, and her attempt at trying to figure out her father's murder/death).

Lynda R Young said...

I do enjoy adding layers to my characters. It really does give them life and makes the story richer.

Mark Noce said...

Let me know what you think of the book when you're done. I've heard Donald and members of his agency speak, but wasn't sure about getting the book. Love the cake pic for the "layers" post:)

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

Layers add such depth to a novel. I just adore the books of Donald Maass. The Breakout Novel and it's companion, The Breakout Novel Workbook, are amazing.

Kenda Turner said...

I haven't read Maass' books yet, but can see I really need to! And I enjoy the layering aspect of writing, it's a lot of fun trying to go deeper :-) Nice post...

Naina Gupta said...

I think that if an author puts too many layers, then it is possible for the reader to get lost and lose track of who's who. It is important to add depth to your work but you need to strike that balance between them.

Life Unordinary said...

can yo suggest a "how to get started with your first book" book?

Rachna Chhabria said...

Hi Friends..I too feel that too many plot layers will needlessly burden the story and weigh it down and the reader may lose track of what is important. An important fact to keep in mind is that the layers need to tie up with the main plot.

Saumya said...

This is great, Rachna! I've read great things about this book and it seems so helpful. I didn't know the difference between layers and subplots but I do think that good stories have both. How is your writing going??

Cheryl Klarich said...

Rachna, I love your dedication to the craft of writing!!
Thanks for the recommendation!

Karen Lange said...

I agree, plot layers are a wonderful thing, in the right balance. It's funny how they just seem to pop up sometimes, but that just adds to the fun. :)

Hope your writing is going well!

Madeleine Maddocks said...

Excellent point. You can tell a good read by the level of plot layers if it's too linear and simplistic it becomes predicatble and boring like films. Those that have many layers can be watched over and over.

alexia said...

Yes, I say layer it up! The more layers the more conflict. My current book has 5 layers.

J.L. Campbell said...

Hi, Rachna,
I do believe that putting in more layers makes my stories meatier. Gives the reader and characters a lot more adventures throughout the story.

Medeia Sharif said...

I enjoy adding layers. When I outline I see an extra layer or two. Then when I'm revising I might add another to enliven characters and add extra conflict.