At the end of the workshop I taught in January, I allowed readers to ask any question they had about writing...any question at all. LOL A question came in about layering...the attendee had sent a book to a category publisher and the editor had told her her submission wasn't "layered" enough. She asked what that meant...and here's my answer...
Many, many, many years ago, I wrote a book for Sil Romance called THE BOSS'S URGENT PROPOSAL. The story was simple: heroine had been in love with her boss for the 5 years she'd worked for him, but he never noticed her...so she'd decided to throw in the towel and move back to Georgia and forget him.
She turns in a notice, which he doesn't acknowledge -- because he never even looked at it. So on her last day of work, he's shocked that she's leaving. He 'urgently' asks her to give him the weekend so she can show him the ropes of what she does...and she reluctantly agrees...She agrees reluctantly because she's already moved out of her apartment and has nowhere to stay for the weekend and she's not sleeping her car. He invites her to stay at his house.
So, I have boss/secretary, a long time crush, close proximity and a ticking clock.
Mary Teresa Hussy, who was standing in for my editor for a reason I can't remember, called me late on a Friday night and said, his character needs more layering. Oh, and can you have it done by Monday.
I didn't have a lot of time. (Understatement) So all I could do was add a line here and there of him remembering his deceased fiancée.
That book was my first book to be an RT top pick. They "loved" the layered storyline. LOL
The trick to having a layered character is to give him an interesting, difficult, or jumbled up past, something that kind of collides with the heroine's story and affects both of them...as well as the romance.
In Daring To Trust the Boss, the hero was a former foster child, who was almost obsessive compulsive in the way he dressed and behaved, not wanting ever to look like someone who didn't fit into the billionaire world he'd edged his way into.
The heroine had been sexually assaulted (she got away before she could be raped) by the town rich kid, who, of course, was never prosecuted. She embarrassed and humiliated herself by coming forward, then the people of her little town harassed her saying she'd lied about him attacking her and was only trying to extort money from him.
So we have a 3-tiered hero. Former foster kid, who isn't comfortable with who he was, and who isn't sure he (the real "he") fits anywhere.
And a harassed heroine, determined to make her way in the world...but also very determined to be herself, the real person she is, because if she doesn't, then the old boyfriend wins.
He's hiding behind a façade. She's "out there."
Notice how many layers there are to that. And also notice that they all relate to things that happened in their past. He grew up believing he had to be perfect and never really discovered who he was.
You don't "tell" readers that on page one. There are enough conflicts that this last one can slowly reveal itself. Then being around her, he begins to long to be himself, to be with her because she likes the person he is underneath all his polish. But he fears letting go.
Do you see how "layered" that is? How slowly revealing these things makes his character more complex?
She, at first, doesn't trust him. Then once he lets her take over a big project and she gets a taste of the freedom of having the money and authority to be the business person she always knew she could be, she soars. Because she's ready. And that only makes him want what she has -- that confidence and freedom -- all the more.
Now...All that is a very long way of saying that a book is about steps...Journey Steps (I call them...even do a workshop about it) of two characters going from who they are at the beginning of the story to who they are at the end of the story.
Your book could be set up like my Sil Romance was. A cute premise, close proximity, banter, flirting, sex, conflict ...but if you don't have those layers of character that come from things that happened in their pasts, then the story really is only a surface story.
What your editor wants is for you to go from the cute meet, set up, cute premise, banter, flirting story to one that has something in the characters' backgrounds that takes readers deeper and involves them in the characters' lives in a real, genuine, personal way.
Happy Monday...and Happy Reading!