Monday, June 14, 2010

This or That? Mixing Writing Techniques

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

In the comments last week, there was discussion about how it's not always an "either or" situation. This is so important, and it shocks me that I never really talked about it before.

As with dramatic irony vs surprise, you don't have to pick one over the other. Mixing various techniques to achieve your writing goal often gives the best results. Layering plot leads to unpredictability, layering character development leads to deeper conflicts, layering dialog leads to character development. Just like you don't want setting details to just provide setting, everything you do with your writing can do double duty.

It's the braiding of words that create the richest stories. That can be the surface words on the page, the deeper meaning behind those words, or how we choose to put those words on paper in the first place.
  • Look at your external goal and see what internal conflict you might be able to bring out to complicate that goal.
  • Look at your setting and see what you can do to add to the mood or tone. Maybe even use that to illustrate another aspect of your character or foreshadow a critical moment.
  • Look at your characters and see how their misconceptions can complicate things, or how a past trauma might affect a present problem.
The next time you find yourself wondering, "Should I do this or that?" take a minute and think about what would happen if you did both. You might just find new depths to your scene.


  1. Great post. Layering is the key. When I read books with lots of layering I always like them more, they seem so much deeper and rounded.

  2. Lately I've been evaluating story scenes by the question of "What does this scene do?" If there's only one answer, I squint hard at it and figure out what else can happen so it accomplishes more than one thing.

    It seems to help keep me from producing static vignettes whose only purpose is to demonstrate character(s).

  3. Great post as usual. Thanks for the reminder. Several editors at the LA SCBWI conference last year mentioned they're looking for books with layers. You did a great job explaining what that means.

  4. I absolutely agree with Stina. Great post. Wonderful reminder. Excellent explanation.

  5. That's a great idea. I went to a workshop given by an editor who suggested we think about having our character think, say, or want the exact opposite of what we'd planned. That opens up interesting possibilities too.

  6. Nice post as usual. Hay, you seam to know every damn thing about writing, Janice.

    Cold As Heaven

  7. It's all in the layering. Plot, character, and etc. Thanks for the reminder. :0)

  8. Most welcome! It's so easy to get locked on one thing you don't even think abut other options. I know it happens to me and I always smack myself on the forehead and think "Of course, both!" when a writer pal points it out.