Horizontal Road, in its basic sense, is the plot. It's what happens in the story. It's the making sure that all the pieces of the story are told so that the story makes sense from beginning to end. It doesn’t mean you have to follow a chronological, literally first thing first and last thing last, progression, but you want to make sure you leave no gaping holes.
Vertical Road is the depth of the story. It could be development of characters, development of setting—those things that connect readers, endear them to characters, to place and therefore make them invested in the horizontal road they travel while reading the story.
As you plunge into editing your work, think about these two roads.
For horizontal storytelling, think about your plot. Think about your main character (MC) and what the MC wants, what conflict(s) prevent the MC from obtaining that want, what obstacles the MC faces in getting the want, and how that struggle concludes. In my piece “8 Questions for Writers,” I talk more about the MC and the movement of the plot. As you’re working on the main plot, it’s important to think about your subplots, too. Because we are so focused on the main plot, sometimes the subplots fall flat and peter out before they reach their conclusions.
For vertical storytelling, think about your characters, the setting, the time, the atmosphere of your story. As the creator of a story, you know everything there is to know about your characters, places, atmospheres in a story. Knowing everything, it is up to you to decide how deep to layer this material into the story. We can end up being so exact, so telling of every aspect of a character, a location that we give no space for the reader to interact with the story. It is always important in developing the vertical storytelling to ask yourself, “What does the reader need to know in order to connect to/with the story and continue reading?”
Shon Bacon is an author, doctoral candidate, editor, and educator. She has published both creatively and academically. Shon also interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. Her second mystery, Into the Web, was released April 2012, and recently, she's been published in the short story collection, The Corner Cafe. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment. Currently, Shon is busy editing, writing, and pursuing her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University.