Wednesday, September 23, 2015


I am very into crafting and making art, especially mixed media collage and art journaling, but I'm not really good at it. That doesn't bother me so much because part of what I like is the challenge of getting better. Plus, I know why I'm not good. I never put enough layers.

Here's a thing I made earlier.

This is the back and the front of a sketch pad that I am going to use as an idea dump book. I'm super happy with the end product because the front is the pretty and pink that I love and the back, with the reproduction of a Jack the Ripper letter, is the dark morbid horror that I also love. Still, there's something missing. Not from the back so much because it's the back and I won't see it a lot, I just like knowing it's there, but from the front. It's incomplete because of the lack of layers.

But you may say "Stevie, there are like 10 different elements! How much more can you layer?!" I know, imaginary audience! But trust me there was a lot more I could do. Like, I should have done something with all my edges, like any of the many different ways you can distress something. Or maybe I could have done more stamping on a few pieces.  Or maybe I could have added some ribbon or lace around the number wheel. Or any number of other things. There's a chance I might still try to add one of those ideas but I'm afraid I might ruin a design I pretty much like overall. And that's the other part of layering: editing. (Did you think I was going to say fear? Because I could have, but fear is another post and this is strictly about layers.)

Bringing an editing eye, as they like to say on Project Runway. Knowing when to stop or keep going, preferably before you glue all the pieces down.  It's the difference between looking like a kid did it, or an amateur did it, as opposed to a real artist doing it. It's the kicking it up a notch and BAM! that takes a piece from good, fine, finished to POW! POP! and other Batman sound effects. And it's just as important in art, in cooking. and in writing.

There are about a million ways layers and layering play into writing but I want to focus on backstory.
The other day I posted a short excerpt of backstory for Jan, a character in PB+J. Since I hand wrote it, I'm typing it up now and think a lot about how I should revise it. Technically this is already a revision and about a third of the length of the first one, and since I'm cutting 2 of the main characters' povs, I expect this next revision to be cut down to another third. Anyway, everything I cut out isn't deleted. It doesn't mean it didn't happen and that it's gone forever. It's still there, in the backstory of the character that only I know.

For example, in the next revision, the story will start at the reception after the funeral, instead of the morning before the funeral but everything that happens in the morning is still there. Jan yelling at Bobby, Bobby deciding to confront Jan later, and Pete accidentally letting it slip that Jan plans on leaving town after the funeral happen in the past story instead of in the present story. And even though the audience won't see those actions, they still give depth to character, add layers to events and relationships that persistently peek out in the current action, like the peacock print at the edge of my sketchbook cover.

It's sort of crazy to think that the first draft of this story is 15, 000 words and the final draft might only be 2,000. Or that I know the stories for a handful of characters who don't even appear in the final draft, including the original owner of the barn where most of the story's action takes place and who never appears in any version. But that's just how I write or how I think when I write. I need to know those things so I can understand whatever is happening in the current story and make it feel alive, fully fleshed out and not just words stacked on the next and next and next word.

Besides they say editing is where writing actually happens and you can't edit a blank page. So those ten thousand words I cut, become backstory I can reveal in bits and pieces to add interest, tension, and drama until I have a well-balanced, multi-layered work of fiction that reads like it's been written by a real writer.