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The 'Onion Layers' of Writing

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Sun May 31, 2009 2:51 am
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fragile_heart(!) says...

Onions, by far, are my favorite vegetable. Yes, it gives me horribly raunchy breath after wards that tends to ward off my friends – or any member of the public, for that matter – and is impossible to cut without tearing up. But, my love for it is unconditional, and I would never trade it in for any other fruit or veggie, no matter how beneficial to my hygiene.

Now, you're probably wondering why I'm ranting about onions. The reason is that when writing a mystery novel, or even a fantasy/romance/action/etc. novel with some mysterious aspects in it, you must think of it like an onion.

We all have learned some way or another that info-dumps are bad. Weather from a critique or an article here (I learned from Snoink's article :wink:), we have come to realize that they result in loosing the hook we snagged our readers with and possibly breaking that fishing line holding them to us. So, how do you evenly proportionate your informative chapters?

First, write your whole plot down. And I don't just mean a basic overview. I mean, your whole plot, including every itty-bitty piece of information you can squeeze out of it. If you already have it written down, then great! You're one step ahead of us. If the plot you wrote down isn't in point form, start to highlight the points and scratch out unnecessary sentences.

Then, start to make a chart, kind of like those tree-diagram you do in math class. I'm kind of stuck on the whole 'onion' thing, and use the word 'layer' (everyone at school calls me captain connector for my comparisons), but you're not limited. Write down how much information you're willing to give away on each point, and then continue the list horizontally. Or if you're a vertical person, go for it! By the end of the chart, your 'onion' will have been completely peeled, and your denouement will come into play.

An example of what a chart may look like:

Layer One: Jimmy meets Liza > Layer Two: Jimmy's attraction for Liza starts to bud > Layer Three: Jimmy finds Liza's fingerprints at the crime scene > Layer Four...

You get what I mean. (I started to run out of things to improv. about xD) These charts are great for those parts in the story that only you know as the author, but the protagonist isn't supposed to know about until later on in the book. I'm horrible when it comes to secrets in writing, and always seem to be having slips of the tongue (or fingers). This way, I can plan out my layers before I write them, position them into the correct chapters, and have an organized, mysterious aspect to my story.

If I have any beliefs about immortality, it is that certain dogs I have known will go to heaven - and very, very few persons.
— James Thurber