Laura and I don’t start writing until we have completed an arc for our project, usually a visual on a big sheet of paper. It’s just a different kind of outline, so when we begin we always know where we are going. However, that is not where we always end up. Writers must embrace serendipity – that moment when a new character appears or a plot twist you hadn’t thought of inserts itself.
Once we have the first draft of a project complete, we start the lasagna process and go over the project adding layer after layer. Lasagna wouldn’t be very good if it only had one layer of noodles, one of meat sauce and one of cheese. Layers in lasagna and writing make a much better finished product.
For example, we might go through our draft character by character taking a dialogue pass. What idioms have we missed? What can we layer in to make to make each character’s dialogue more authentic? (This is where we have gotten into trouble using Urban Dictionary.)
We make a pass looking at descriptions. What can we show about a character without telling the reader? Scuffed cowboy boots with worn down heels show us something very different from immaculately polished cowboy boots fresh out of the box. Can we give details of the physical setting that indicate season or the time of day?
It is important to layer in the five senses. This is about putting the reader in the scene. What does the character see, hear, smell, taste, and touch? I printed those words out in a big, bold font and posted them on the bulletin board in front of my computer. As a writer, I also need to be in the scene.
We check for “ins” and “outs.” Have we started a scene as far into the action as possible and still have it make sense? If the scene can begin inside a house the characters have visited before, you don’t need to start this scene with them driving into the driveway and opening the front door – unless it furthers the plot. The “outs” are about having the end of the last paragraph in a scene make the reader want to keep turning the page. The ends of chapters should always be some sort of cliff hanger.
Finally we make a stopper pass. This is anything in the writing that makes the reader stop and think too much. It kills the pace you are creating. Your critique group or beta readers can be helpful here. A word that you are familiar with, but nobody else knows, won’t be a stopper for you, but will for the majority of readers. Perhaps it’s a relationship that’s too complicated. Second and third cousins once removed. Please!
After all the passes and changes we do it again, and again, and again until we are satisfied. By that time our novel, or screenplay, or play has multiple layers, making it much more compelling read than it would have been if we hadn’t done the lasagna thing.