Layer Cake Method of Drafting a Novel

I am a big fan of The Great British Bake Off.  As a baker, I love watching the creativity, the beauty, the sheer miraculousness of what the bakers on that show pull off week after week.  I also happen to love cake.  I have written before how writing is like baking (see here), but as I considered drafting and layers, I realized that as writers we might use a Layer Cake Method for our writing projects.

Our layer cake has five layers, yum!  Here goes:

  1. Background reading and basic research:  the idea here is to get a minimum viable setting for your novel.  If you are writing a historical, do some deep reading about the time period and any real historical people who may be featured in your story.  If you are writing a mystery, do some research about police procedures, real-life murder plots that might inspire, methods, etc.  If you are writing about a main character in a particular industry, read about that, maybe interview a few people.  Get the basics down.  NOTE: some writers like to stay in layer one forever.  It can be a comforting way to procrastinate and “write” without actually writing.  Minimum viable is what we are going for here!
  2. Character work:  write some character sketches for your main protagonist and antagonist.  Ask yourself those important questions about their goals, motivations, and conflict.  Maybe even write a little backstory for them.  WARNING:  the backstory is to inform your writing and most of it will not end up in your novel.  It’s okay!  
  3. Inciting Incident:  AKA the What If?  This is what starts your story, so think it through and write the scene.  What is THE thing that will force your protagonist to take action, make decisions, face consequences…
  4. Write the Islands:  Chances are you have several big scenes in mind.  You have a basic shape for your story.  At this point, you may choose to make an outline if you are a planner or wing it if you are a pantser, but either way, what are the big turning point scenes?  Write those.
  5. Write BETWEEN the islands:  Now, the most challenging layer of all.  Just like in baking, getting that top layer just right, can take some ingenuity.  How does your MC get from island to island?  Write it…

Once you have these five layers in place, you will have a first draft or a Discovery Draft.  It may be a little short, and that’s okay!  Having a draft is the most important step on the road to having a novel.  Without a draft, you can’t revise or make changes to the structure or edit or polish or do any of the things that will turn it into a real book.  You need the layers in place before you can add frosting or ganache… 

For those of you who are interested in taking this metaphor even further, visit http://readerly.net for other posts about writing and baking, in particular an upcoming post about revising using the Layer Cake Method. You just might find a cake recipe or two, as well!

Robin Henry is an Author Accelerator certified book coach who works with writers of historical fiction, mysteries, and women’s fiction to craft the compelling stories readers crave, about people who’ve made a difference.  

Find her here!
Email:  readerlybooks@gmail.com
On Instagram:  @readerlybooks         
Twitter:  @ReaderlyB    

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