Soup and Layers: Fleshing Out The First Draft

soupWell, it finally cooled off in south Florida. I actually broke out the long pants for an entire six hours. To celebrate the first chilly day of the season, I always make soup, and as I was adding ingredients every thirty minutes to my steaming pot of yum, I realized how similar it was to adding layers to a story. The first draft is usually the bare bones, skeletal–more scaffolding than a complete structure. But once you start revising, you add the layers that flesh it out and make it thicker, three-dimensional. There are a lot of things you could add to achieve this goal. Here are a few on my current revision list…

1. Subplots. These secondary plot lines add complexity and girth and are almost always directly tied-in to the main plot line. A romance that complicates the main character’s objective (The Hunger Games); a mystery that is solved at a pivotal point in the story (Saving Private Ryan); a friendship that spurs the MC on in her quest to reach her goal (Wither). Each subplot should have its own complete and smooth story arc. Keep this in mind when editing.

2. Theme. Some writers start with theme. Others figure it out along the way. Still others have the entire first draft done before they realize what the theme is (hello, me). However you do it, it’s crucial to at some point identify your story’s main theme so you can touch on it from start to finish. Think of your theme as a secondary subplot, one that needs a full arc from beginning to end. Revisit it frequently to add depth.

3. Character Renovations. Without fail, I get all the way through my first draft and realize that my main character is missing something. I hate that. But that’s what the revision process is for, no? To increase depth, add an endearing quirk, uncommon trait, or a fatal flaw to be overcome. For maximum impact, make the trait one that either helps or hinders the character’s ability to achieve his or her overall goal. (Also, see this excellent post by Janice Hardy on layering with character emotion.)

4. Meaningful Repetitions. These include anything that is repeated throughout the story and, ideally, grows or changes with the story. Symbols and metaphors are good examples. Common phrases or sayings. Meaningful objects. Settings also apply: a favorite hang-out, the place your character goes when she needs downtime, a location that has specific significance or emotional importance. These repeated pieces are like touchstones for the reader, connecting them with the characters and embedding the reader more firmly into the story with each repetition.


Image: Rena_kim @ Pixabay


Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, an online library packed with powerful tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
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Leslie Rose
8 years ago

I don’t know which is more delicious – the soup or your terrific tips.

Carol Riggs
8 years ago

Oooh! Great analogy. It’s difficult to write it first off with ALL those layers–some have to be added later. Although I usually have my subplots mostly there from the beginning. I’ve definitely had to tweak my main character to fit what she ends up being. I love doing the symbols threading thru the story. 🙂

The Golden Eagle
8 years ago

Theme either comes to me while I’m writing the story or during planning, or I have to go and chase it down–I like the idea of it as a secondary subplot.

Great post!

Cynthia Chapman Willis

What a great post. I especially love what you wrote about character renovations. Brilliant.

Kelly Hashway
8 years ago

Couldn’t agree more. Revising for everything all at once is overwhelming. Going through several rounds with specific things in mind each time is so much easier. You catch more and your work will be better for it.

Julie Musil
8 years ago

What an awesome post. I’m plotting now, trying to get all of this in motion before I write the first draft. But you know what? This will NOT all be there in the first draft, so I need to relax and know that it can be added during revisions. I’m going to check out Janice Hardy’s post now. Thank you!

Gail Shepherd
8 years ago

Butternut squash soup is one of my all time favorite soups. I have about 16 variations of it.

Wow, Becca, you’ve got me excited already about doing a revision, and I’m not even 1/4 done with my first draft! As always, invaluable advice.

8 years ago

Wow, this is the second food to novel post. Both are totally different but still great.

Must be something about this colder weather…

Lisa Gail Green
8 years ago

LOVE LOVE LOVE this post! Especially those “touchstones” for the reader.

8 years ago

Good post! I write mainly for children, so I love #3 and #4. I’ll have a bowl of baked potato soup, please.

Karen Lange
8 years ago

Great stuff! Been thinking about some of this for the WIP. And for some reason, I am suddenly in the mood for soup…:)

Clarissa Draper
8 years ago

I’ve been making soup more too. It’s starting to get cool here in Mexico too.

Love #4. When writers do this, it just adds so much to a book.

Carrie Butler
8 years ago

Not only did you write a fantastic post, but you also made me hungry for soup! 😉

Melinda S. Collins
8 years ago

I thoroughly enjoyed the comparison of element-layering to soup, Becca! Love this post! 🙂

Tyler-Rose Counts
8 years ago

I like the analogy of soup and the different ingredients being the things and details you add to the story as the drafts build up. Draft number one is like swimming through soup and after that it should be only like making soup.

8 years ago

Nice one. Meaningful repetitions and character renovations – that’s what I’m struggling with as I plough through draft 3. Character renovations are particularly exciting as they keep threatening to derail plot elements I’ve come to see as crucial through the first two drafts whilst adding a dynamism (for me, anyway) that wasn’t there previously.

Kelly Polark
8 years ago

Great post.
I have to think of some meaningful repetitions for my wip!

Ghenet Myrthil
8 years ago

Perfect analogy! I’m revising now and working on all of these elements.

8 years ago

Now that you mention it, it is a lot like making a really good soup. The hard part for me is often allowing it to simmer slowly, for both the soup and the novel!

Shannon O'Donnell
8 years ago

LOVE! Big-time!! I bookmarked this one for easy access. 🙂

Susie Lindau
8 years ago

This is such excellent advice. I love how concise you were in your post. I think I am probably working in too much detail for a first draft and will take your advice and think of it as layering for the rest of the WIP.

Absolutely the best advice I have read in a while~

8 years ago

Awesome post, Becca. Great advice for the planning and revision stages of any project.

Angela Ackerman
8 years ago

Do you see people, WHY I have cleverly trapped Becca into my critique web? The girl has smarts all over the place. I would be lost without her! 🙂


8 years ago

I think I am going to take a print of this and stick it to my desk. I often lose my way during editing and this is perfect to remind myself what my objective is during revision! Thanks!

Becca Puglisi
8 years ago

Yes, Matt. You’ve never tasted my homemade bread.

*cough* *hack* *uses bread to hammer in nails*

Matthew MacNish
8 years ago

Is there no end to your genius?

Traci Kenworth
8 years ago

Mmm, soup sounds good on this
dreary day. Maybe that’s what
I’ll make for dinner tonight. I
love the weave of story layers
in your recipe. It is so important
to add those depths to bring your
characters from one-dimensional
to third.

Wild About Words
8 years ago

Soup and writing. What a perfect connection!

Stina Lindenblatt
8 years ago

Don’t let my hubby see the picture. He’ll expect me start garnishing my butternut squash soup the same way. I’m too exhausted to do that by the time I’ve finished making the soup.

Great post. Going back to develop the layers is vital to a strong story.

Laura Pauling
8 years ago

I’ll never look at soup the same way again! 🙂 Cute analysis. 🙂