The 7 Layer Cake Writing Method

Baking a 7 layer cake is like writing a story. You have so many tempting and tasty choices to make, and each new layer builds on the one below. When you write layer by layer, you won’t forget to add critical ingredients. It will also help you identify when a layer needs more sugar or spice! 

bottom layer of a cakeLAYER #1 is molded with SETTING
Without a proper SETTING, your story will crumble. Add excessive setting details, and your story will be too dense. Don’t be afraid to experiment until you strike the right balance.

  • WHERE does the story take place? Does it remain the same or change throughout the story?
  • WHEN does the story take place?
  • WHAT is the right amount of setting detail to include? 


naturo charactersLAYER #2 is mixed with CHARACTERS
CHARACTERS are critical ingredients to every story, especially your main characters. Since you want your readers to care about the main characters, they should be the most detailed!

  • WHO/WHAT are they? Person, animal, or plant? Earthling or alien life force? Computer with a brain – lifelike or otherwise?
  • WHAT do they look like?
  • HOW old are they and where were they born?
  • WHAT is the personality of each character? Each should be noticeably distinct. Shy or Talkative? Serious or Funny? Rule-follower or rule-breaker? Leader or follower?
  • DESCRIBE family and friends, as well as frenemies or outright villains
  • DESCRIBE hobbies, magic powers, secrets and wishes, pets, and anything he or she feels strongly about, positive or negative
  • WHAT problems or issues do they face?
  • DOES your main character change in some observable way from start to finish? 
  • WHAT do your characters say? DIALOGUE should be a big part of your story – especially longer ones – as characters (and people) like to talk!


plot diagram 2LAYER #3 is blended with PLOT
PLOT is a sequence of events that make up a story. Is your story juicy with plot twists or drizzled with humor? While most plots follow a standard structure, how you mix the ingredients is up to you. 

  • ESTABLISH normal life for your main character(s) (Exposition)
  • INTRODUCE the inciting incident or problem (Rising Action)
  • HIGHLIGHT the most intense moment when the main character meets the problem head on (Climax)
  • WHAT happens after the big moment? How has the main character changed?(Falling Action)
  • TIE all the story threads together at the end (Resolution)


LAYER #4 is stirred with POINT OF VIEW

boy and girl doing handstands
Depending how you view a cake, it can appear balanced or lopsided. Narration choices will also affect how your readers interpret or view your story. My earlier post from October 26, 2018, DARE TO CHANGE YOUR POINT OF VIEW , offers more detailed information about this critical element.

  • 1ST PERSON: This narrator is a character inside your story, usually the main character. This narrator only knows what he/she can observe from other characters, not what they think.
  • 2ND PERSON: When the narrator talks directly to YOU, the reader, it’s a sign of 2nd person narration.
  • 3RD PERSON: This narrator is invisible but knows everything about the plot and all the characters, including how they think.
  • 3RD PERSON LIMITED: The story is told in 3rd person, but like 1st person, clearly reflects one character’s point-of-view (usually the main character’s).

tense
LAYER #5 is spread with TENSE
Which TENSE is best for your story? Like choosing between vanilla and chocolate, it depends on your personal taste. Whichever tense you choose, make sure you use it consistently. Dialogue and internal thoughts should always be written in present tense, no matter which tense you choose for the overall story. 

  • PRESENT TENSE is a great way to add suspense to your story. It’s especially great for mysteries, when you want to keep readers guessing about the outcome of the main characters. 
  • PAST TENSE is the most commonly used tense for a reason, as it is the natural way for most people to write. It can impart the impression that action was recent or occurred in the distant past.

kids frosting cakes
LAYER #6 is frosted with TONE, WRITING STYLE, and THEME
These elements are intertwined and should be blended to personal taste. 

  • TONE conveys an author’s attitude about their story’s central theme. Will it be formal, informal, sarcastic, serious, scary, or injected with humor?
  • WRITING STYLE is how you construct your sentences and choose your words. Do you write with lots of description, or do you prefer strong action verbs? Do you write in rhyme or prose? The more you write, the more you develop your own unique style.
  • THEME is the central message or you want to impart to your readers. It can be summed up in simple phrases, like IMPORTANCE OF FAMILY, SURVIVAL, GROWING PAINS, and OVERCOMING ADVERSITY, to name a few. If someone asks what your book is really about, they are asking about theme. 


LAYER #7 is sprinkled with REVISION

applying sprinkles
Stories (and cakes) rarely come out perfectly the first time you make them. Even if you follow the recipe exactly, you often make changes the second go around. Every story benefits from REVISION, no matter your level of  expertise.

  • FIX grammar and sentence structure errors
  • SUBSTITUTE stronger verbs
  • ADD or DELETE adjectives or adverbs?
  • PONDER using figurative language, like similes, metaphors, hyperbole alliteration, and puns?
  • ENHANCE sensory details (sight, sound, touch, taste)?
  • ADJUST setting details or other descriptions if necessary
  • REVIEW plot: is it too fast or too slow? Are scenes in the correct order? Should any parts be expanded or reduced?
  • RECITE dialogue to make sure it sounds natural


fancy layer cakeAre there any special layers you like to add to your creative masterpiece? Please share!

30 comments

    1. Thanks, Erik! I wrote a simpler version of this for my creative writing students. And then it hit me: adult writers could benefit from this approach too!

      Like

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