Well, 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.