No, I don’t mean a clove of garlic, or head of lettuce, or that other veggie often served up bloomin’ style.
I’m talking about stories, be it a short story or a monster, 1000 page novel. A story with layers has depth. It makes the world you created real for the reader, and if it’s done right, will boggle my mind. If someone one day says, “That Brandi Lynch chick writes crazy layers!” I think I could die happy.
Well, I’d jump up and down a lot.
What makes these awesome layers? Details. Stories beneath the story. They don’t even have to be explained or resolved in the end. For example, Robert Jordan’s WHEEL OF TIME series. There are so many details and interwoven stories in those books that 13 books hasn’t been enough to cover them all. I sink into the world Mr. Jordan created, and I can believe that at one time, somewhere all those sculpted palaces and strange hairless-cat creatures existed. I can see it, walk the streets, smell the bread in the cities or the cook fires in one of the war camps. There are cultural rituals throughout the people of his world, sometimes even varying town to town. And books! There are books that tell the ancient tales of the lands. Do we know what’s inside The Adventures of Jain Farstrider? A little. Eventually. But the fact that there are books and someone like Rand, a simple sheepherder, reads them. (Of course, Rand is more than that, but origins!)
The thing is, not everything is explained. There are situations among the Aiel that I still don’t quite get what they mean, but that makes it even more intriguing.
Another example. George RR Martin. The world in his series, THE SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, evolves right before our eyes. We see the shifting of political powers, religions, and the renewal of things long thought dead and myth. It’s not a simple replacement, either, but an overlapping of old and new and ancient.
I could name tons of books, but then this post would become a tome.
Can layers be overdone? Why yes, yes they can. They can slow down your story. And not every story needs a whole lot of layering. If you’re writing a fast-paced suspense novel, you don’t want to bog it down with detail. You only want enough to make the world believable.
If your story sounds a little flat, try adding a story under the story.
What are your favorite examples of layered stories?