Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Writing in Layers

Today I have asked a fellow writer, Hallee Bridgeman to share how she writes. I first met Hallee at a book signing in Kentucky. Hallee Bridgeman is a best-selling Christian author who writes action-packed romantic suspense focusing on realistic characters who face real world problems. Her work has been described as everything from refreshing to heart-stopping exciting and edgy.

She is a prolific indie writer with a ton of energy! Welcome Hallee. And if you have any questions for her, be sure to leave them in the comment section or feel free to contact Hallee at

Here's Hallee….

Writing in Layers by Hallee Bridgeman

I have always been a prolific writer. I sit down at 9 in the morning and it’s not unheard of for me to pump out 7, 8, or even 10 thousand words during my writing day. Last November, I decided I wanted to write a free novella for my fans for Christmas, but because it was so late in the month, I would have to write it by Saturday, edit it, and upload it by Sunday so that I could go through the time consuming process of making it free. This book came to me on a Wednesday. I finished it late Friday night, sent it to my editor, and had it uploaded by Sunday morning. It was free by the day after Thanksgiving – which was my goal. (And it’s free now. Look for Christmas Diamond wherever you buy ebooks you can find it.)

One of the qualities that helps me write so fast is that, when I write, I get completely immersed in my scene. I can see it, hear it, smell it, feel it. If my character is eating, I can taste it. It’s as if I’m there, and all I’m doing is transcribing what I’m seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting. I can barely write fast enough to convey what I see.

That works great just for moving the story along and getting the plot out. But, when I go back and read what I’ve written, it’s basically all action. There is very little scene setting, almost no emotion, and few thoughts. It’s all, “She walked into the room, she said this, she walked out of the room.” There’s nothing about how she’s feeling as she walks into the room, no description of the room, and almost no motivation for what she might have said.

Here is an example. The following scene is rough and unedited. It is my “raw” writing – and has not been gone over since I first put the words down. The scene: this is the fifth book in my Virtues and Valor Series, Grace's Ground War, which released on January 19th. We’re in 1941 in a plane above the fictional forest surrounding the fictional town of Valeurville. Ruth Aubertin is the main character, her codename is Grace, she is with another member of the team codenamed Mercy, and also with her brother Matthew. She is parachuting  into Occupied France to go provide trouble for the Germans – blow up railway lines, interfere with communication, spy out intelligence, etc.

Cool evening air billowed into the interior of the plane. Ruth the fuel that made her think of the burning kerosene lamps they would light at night when she was a girl.
She placed a hand on Mercy's shoulder and leaned forward to speak in her ear. "Godspeed, sister. I will be praying for you and our mission."
Mercy did not reply, but reached up and covered her hand with her own.
At the go signal, Matthew stepped out of the door, followed a few seconds later by Mercy. Ruth  did not pause, though she wanted to. Instead, she drew from a well of courage and stepped out of the plane.
The silence that surrounded her was almost shocking after the loud engines of the plane. She could still hear it, but the sound grew fainter and fainter very quickly. Now all she could hear was the rushing of the wind in her ears. She could see nothing. Instead, she used her other senses to help her determine when the ground would rush up and meet her.
After executing a rough but mostly proper parachute landing fall, she rushed around, gathering her parachute and stuffing it into her kit bag.
Once she got her bearings, she rushed to the edge of the tree line and entered the woods. She'd memorized the map of the surrounding area, so, using the small compass attached to the strap of her bag, she moved quickly, quietly, and efficiently through the woods. She would not travel with Mercy and Matthew. They had a different rendezvous point.

Grace's Ground War
What you don’t get in this scene, and what I added when edited this book, is that Ruth is absolutely, bone chillingly, terrified of flying. She can barely function in a plane. She’d rather face down six armed men without a weapon than get into a plane. As far as she is concerned, she hopes she dies in combat in France so that she never has to face getting onto a plane again.

The sound of the plane is absolutely deafening. The smell of the fuel is nauseating. The landing of the parachute jump is the equivalent of jumping off of a 2-story building without a parachute.
There are so many descriptors, so many thoughts, so many feelings that simply are not a part of this scene. And that’s because I wrote the entire 7-book series in about 8 weeks. And the thoughts and feelings and setting will have to be added in – at the time I wrote it, the plot was all that I cared about.

That’s the first layer: the active plot.
The second layer is the hardest part for me. Like I said, I see it, hear it, feel it, taste it. If I can, then surely the reader can, too, right? Yeah – not unless I tell the reader. So what I have to do is weed through this plot that I’ve kind of just tossed onto the screen and figure out what needs to be added in. What kind of descriptions do I need to set up this environment just so? What kinds of thoughts will help explain the character’s actions? How is the character feeling while they’re jumping into utter darkness, 2,000 feet above unknown ground?

Going through what I’ve written actually takes me longer than the initial writing. It’s hard work for me, while the writing the story is actually easy. So, I painstakingly go through scene by scene and try to fill in all of those details that are so important to the story.

Once that second layer is built, I have to let it sit for a few days. I can’t immediately go back to it, because my experiences deep inside my muse are so fresh, I’ll miss something that’s missing.
To apply the third layer, I have to read it out loud. It’s strange how much you catch when you’re hearing a story versus reading a story. The brain, which fills in the holes of what’s missing while reading can’t do it while listening.

So, I read it out loud to my husband, and I catch little inconsistencies, poor scene setting, missing emotions, wrong dialogue. Now when it sounds right, I know that it will read right to someone who didn’t experience it all in my head with me.

Only after I’ve read it out loud does it go to my professional editors. Even through all of these processes, there are still things the editors catch that I’m missing. When their edits come back, it has usually been long enough since I experienced that story that I can read it with fresh eyes and experience the flow of the story and the execution of the plot.

It’s fascinating how smoothly all of those layers meld together into a well executed story that is hardly recognizable to that first raw draft.

More about Hallee:
Hallee loves coffee, campy action movies, and regular date nights with her husband. Above all else, she loves God with all of her heart, soul, mind, and strength; has been redeemed by the blood of Christ; and relies on the presence of the Holy Spirit to guide her. She prays her work here on earth is a blessing to you and would love to hear from you. Be sure to check out all of her books on

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