Building a story in layers









A writer’s brain is like a magician’s hat. If you’re going to get anything out of it, you have to put something in it first. —Louis L’Amour

The material for a good story is gathered in layers, stage by stage.

I’ve broken the process down into several stages to show how there are many different kinds of information that need to be brought together.

– bare outline, basic facts
– adding more detail, rough timescale, emerging themes
– narrative detail, who, when, where, why, what happened next
– deeper background, fleshing out important themes
– adding human touches, emotions, people speaking their feelings
– flashes of the unexpected

It may look complicated, but it’s actually very intuitive and most of this is common sense. In practice you can do most of these stages in one good interview. Or you may need to go back more than once.

This exercise uses the example of “Joseph Plant”, a boy whose life was ruined after being exposed to a pesticide as a baby. Gradually, stage by stage, we add information to make the story fully informative and bring it to life.

Next stage: Basic facts, bare outline