How And When To Write In Layers

Stefani Vader
3 min readMar 22, 2019

Every writer faces that difficult scene.

You know the one I’m talking about. You know what needs to happen in that scene, how it should play out, but when it comes to getting it down on paper, you sit staring at the screen.

For me, this often happens during action scenes.

I always worry that I’m not going to give enough detail, or the sequence will be muddy and the reader won’t be able to follow along.

One of the tricks I have found when facing this situation is to write in layers.

Writing in layers

Every scene consists of three main components. Dialogue, action, and description.

Now, think about what your strengths and weaknesses are.

For me, dialogue comes easy. I am always at a loss as to what I should add in for description.

Start with your strength.

Write out the entire scene using what ever you are strong at. For example (a bad short example):

“Put the knife down, and step away from the body.”

“This isn’t what it looks like.”

“I’m not going to tell you again.”

I can hear the voices speak clearly in my head, and can see what is going on. Now, I still hate description, so I’ll add in a little action.

Craig whipped his gun out of it’s holster and leveled it at the young woman, his hands steady.

“Put the knife down, and step away from the body.”

“This isn’t what it looks like.” Her entire body trembled as she raised her eyes to meet his.

“I’m not going to tell you again.” Different scenarios played through Craig’s mind as he stood at a standstill, waiting to see what happened.

When you’ve completed the second layer, you’ve come to the last step, and the hardest step. Now you face your weakness. For me, trying to describe things is a struggle. I’m worried there won’t be enough description, or I’ll put in too much. Or maybe I won’t use the right words. But, now is the time to face that.

The woman hadn’t heard him as he’d turned the corner into the alley and she stood motionless

Stefani Vader

Lover of reading and writing. Hater of retail work. Small fish in a big pond, learning as I go.