The Layer Cake Method of Revising Your Novel

#HNS2023 Conference Preview by Robin Henry

You have a draft and it is exciting!  After you’ve let it rest a bit, it is time to think about revising.

Revising, like drafting or assembling a beautiful layer cake, is no easy task.  It cannot be all about looks, there has to be flavor;  in other words, it doesn’t matter how beautiful your sentences are or how perfect your word choice is, if there is not a compelling story in your novel.

Lots of revision advice centers around a specific number of drafts.  I prefer to use the layer cake metaphor, by working in layers, writers may use as many drafts as are necessary to get through the requirements of the layer.  Think of it as making sure your flavors are just right and the position of each layer is perfect, and that you’ve gotten the shape and structure to hold the next layer, so that your cake, er, novel, will stand on its own and be a wonder to behold.

The following are the five layers we will discuss during my session at the HNS conference:

  1. Structure:  It is easy to get bogged down in copy editing your work and not notice the larger structural changes and character development that will make it shine. Kind of like when Paul Hollywood says it looks great, but your flavors are all wrong… 
  2. Intention:  Sometimes during the initial drafting phase, we like to make things happen in the novel.  We like to pop in with a lot of surprises, reveals, and gotchas, which are not really logical.  You may have used coincidences to help your MC out of trouble.  During revision is the time to take a look at the Cause: Effect chain in your novel and make sure it works. Make the Intention of each scene clear to the reader, and make sure that there is story logic. It is best not to try to be too clever and combine too many different flavors that don’t go well together. 
  3. Character:  Are your characters’ goals, motivations, and conflicts clear?  Do the stakes rise as the story builds? Are there [real] consequences when your characters make choices? Have you made good choices in the types of cake, fillings, and frostings you are using?  Each choice your characters make in some part determines the other choices they will have.
  4. Seed Planting:  Now that you have the story structure, POV, Cause and effect, and characters sorted, it is time to go back through the narrative and look for places to make readers curious.  What is revealed and when?  Can you plant the seeds of what is to come so that the reader will anticipate and be curious? Think of this layer as the hidden flavor in the cake.  It is the subtle one that delights you when you realize it is there, just beneath the hero flavor…
  5. Details:  Polishing it before you reach layer five is like trying to pipe roses on a cake that is falling apart or too hot to hold the buttercream. Sure, you can, but it won’t hide the steaming mess underneath. Now you have the cake assembled, you work on making it beautiful.

Revision is a treacherous business with many twists and turns, kind of  like creating a layer cake that is both flavorful and lovely to look at. Just as you have to build the cake from the bottom up, you must revise your novel starting with big picture items and moving through the layers until you get to the buttercream details which make it sparkle and shine.  Join me in San Antonio for the full session including examples, handouts, and more to help you on the way to revising your novel.

Robin Henry is an Author Accelerator Certified Book Coach and holds an MLS (Library Science) and MA in Humanities. She is a librarian, adjunct professor of Humanities and Library Science and an independent scholar and book coach, specializing in Historical Fiction, Cozy Mysteries, and Literary Fan Fiction. She has over 20 years of experience working with books and authors, as a reviewer, book award committee member, writing teacher and coach. She is a total history nerd, just like you! Writers work with Robin to craft the compelling novels readers crave about people who’ve made a difference.

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