Someone in my recent Journey Steps workshop asked the question if story threads were layering. It was such a great question that I thought we’d post the answer here!
Question: Are story threads what authors refer to when they tell you you must layer your story?
Yes and no.
Story threads give you a great opportunity to show different facets of your main characters by how they react or act in the different threads that knit into the main story. That's a huge part of layering.
But also there are other things that add texture or richness. And sometimes authors also refer to this as layering. I call it adding texture and richness. (LOL) But a lot of authors see this as layering because it shows all the different aspects (or layers) of the story and your characters.
For instance, I'm writing a story about a heroine who left her alcoholic husband and runs into him eight years later...with their child (who he doesn't know about).
The jig is up. He's sober now and wants involved in their little girl's life.
I used the heroine's mom to voice her fears...Are you really going to risk letting him see Trisha?
And the hero's secretary to show that he's much different than the man the heroine left. When he comes into the office shaken after discovering he has a child, she says, "You work harder than anybody here. And finding out you have a child is a shock. You should take the day off."
These aren't threads. They are interactions that display important things that make the story feel more real (richer and textured). And they are necessary. How other people view the situation and the main characters themselves is important to the story.
Involving the characters who populate the hero and heroine's lives also makes it feel more real. (Remember logical next steps and daily events...they might jumpstart a plot, but one of their other big functions is to provide readers with a "real" experience.) So seeing things through the eyes of secondary characters adds texture and richness. Or as some people say, secondary characters show all the layers of your characters' lives.
Now, the same caveat applies to texture and richness (like showing things through interactions with secondary characters, descriptions, and using setting). A little bit goes a long way. If there’s a thunderstorm EVERY TIME your main characters argue or are in a scary situation, readers will think it odd. If secondary characters are ALWAYS commenting on the main characters’ actions, readers will wonder why they’re always around. (And probably tell them to get a life!)
Of course, with shorter book, you have to keep an even tighter rein on these things. With longer books you have more opportunities and options.
Happy Monday..and Happy Writing