Thursday, May 13, 2010

Weaving a Good Yarn: Writing Lessons Learned from Knitting

I love to knit. It is relaxing and I am able to produce so many wonderful things just from my fingertips.

Recently I have been thinking a lot of knitting and how it parallels writing and I don't think you have to look very hard to find them.

How many of you are knitters? Or saw your grandmother or mother knit? How many of you have characters that knit? Well, if you aren't familiar with any of these terms, I will try to explain without going too in depth. ; )

You start every project by casting on stitches. See that string of yarn on the left side of the picture? That is left over yarn, a tale as it were. It is the same with your story- the tale, the beginning is most often your back story. Sometimes long, sometimes short, almost all of us have written something that started right away with back story.

You know what I do with that little tale? I cut it off! It's not needed, it was just my start and it won't help my project beyond that- like the excess in a character bio. The same with writing. We start with backstory for our sake, but once the story is done, we go back and cut it. It drags it down, doesn't help and the reader just wants action, not a long tale right at the start. But if you weave that tale into the project, you will have a stronger item overall, the same with backstory.

Once I have cast on my desired length (plot structure in writing terms), I move my needle to the first stitch and start my project. I knit straight up until it is time to turn and move into another section.

Have you ever gotten to a section in your story where it just seems like it goes on forever without any drama/ action/ intrigue? The same with my knitting projects- especially socks. If all you are doing is knitting straight up with no variation in the pattern, it is going to get boooooring.

Your readers feel the same way. If there is no action, no building of tension for the characters, that book may just find itself flying across the room into the recycling bin.

The patterns that really catch the eye, are the ones that have pop and style. The variation and intrigue associated with building a complex, beautiful work of art.

The stories that really grab and captivate readers are the ones that are changing, growing, building the tension until the reader struggles to breathe. There is always some new tension adding to the story, be it emotionally or physically.

When you knit socks you don't want laddering on the sides. This is where stitches are loosened and not pulled tight- producing "windows" in the project.

If you develop weak characters, shabby plot lines or confusing story structure, you are laddering in your story. A laddered project of any kind will eventually fail miserably. Pull your stitches tight!

Turning the heel, the part the knitter most often dreads, but if done correctly it is the easiest part in the entire sock.
Writers often fuss and fume about their "dark moment", the tension in their story or worry that they might "drop a stitch", but the thing of the matter is, if you have built a strong foundation, avoiding the loose stitches and potential laddering, built strong characters and defined the motives, your tension and "black moment" will flow naturally out of your story. Besides you have the added benefit I don't have while knitting- there are such things as rewrites. : ) And though you might not like to hear that, you must face the truth, no work of ANY kind will be perfect the first time around. You should see my first pair of completed socks....

Now you have moved pass the heel and are heading into the home stretch, the part that takes the least amount of time and the one you are so excited about working on, because it means the end is very clearly in sight. You start moving faster, your needles are flying, the keys clicking and then you stop and look back...

Five rows up you dropped a stitch, or maybe you added one. Either way, you don't want to leave it, your readers will be sure and pick it apart. You painstakingly rip your work apart and fix what was broken.
I have done this too many times to count and I hate it each time, but believe me, this will be where your reader will thank you, and you will thank yourself. This means more work, yes, but in the long run you will have a stronger project. Too many stitches will throw your work way of mark. Too few, or one dropped can rip your project apart in one wear.

You are finally at the end. Knitting the toe. Here is where it takes utmost concentration, a willingness to push forward and not to look back. Here is where the beloved words, THE END can be penned. But it isn't without it's trials. Knitting the toe can possibly be the hardest thing you will do while knitting. Each stitch needs to be accounted for, the needles in perfect order.
The same with your story. Here is where you tie up all the loose ends, polish and spit shine. Here is where every thread and story element that you incorporated into the novel needs to be brought to closure. Leave anything undone and your reader will be royally upset and rightly so.

Finally all the loose ends that hung from your project are woven in, sewn in tight and your sock is ready to wear. Congratulations, you have just completed a project that has taken weeks if not months to complete. But in your hands is a garment/ story that will bring joy to the heart and warmth to the toes. : ) Or souls if you prefer.

Now you have half of your pair done or completed one novel- NOW GO DO ANOTHER ONE! Oh and by the way, I can personally vouch on the socks that the second will go much smoother. ; )


Unknown said...

My big goal for 2010 is to learn how to knit socks!

Keli Gwyn said...

Wonderful analogy, Casey. That's one of the most memorable explanations of why to avoid a back story dump I've ever heard.

Your socks are beautiful. Love the green pair with the pastel highlights.

Of all the story elements you mentioned, which one do you find the most difficult? Which one brings you the most enjoyment or is the easiest?

Casey said...

Julie, you won't find socks hard if you can find someone willing to sit down and teach you. The first one is always the hardest, after that you can make them in your sleep. :)

Casey said...

LOL Keli, I got those pictures off of Google. :D Those are not my feet or socks. ;) Thank you for the kind comment on my analogy I hope it made sense!!

I love the finish both in making projects and writing. I just look forward to that thrill of knowing I have completed a major project. I get the most enjoyment from that. The most difficult is making sure I tied up all the loose ends. Did I bring everything to closure in a satisfactory way? I have read books that weren't tied all together and it bothers me. I don't want to be ever be accused of that in my writing! :)

Thanks for stopping by!!

Mary Vee Writer said...

Great points, Casey!

Sometimes we sit too close to our project and don't notice we've "slipped a stich". That's when our great critique partners help.

Nonetheless, there's something satisfying about ripping out a few rows and fixing a problem. The product looks so sweet afterwards :)

Thanks for you post Casey.

Pepper said...

Great post, Casey!
Wonderful analogy to writing.
Ooo, that backstory - I'm learning how to cut it off regardless of the pain involved.
And ripping apart pieces to fix what's broken. Ouch. But you're right. SWEET afterwards.

Judy Gann said...

Wonderful analogy, Casey, and so memorable.

Thank you!

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Oh wow! Casey, you are so intuitive! I loved the analogy! And like Keli, I thought the comparison between the backstory and the tail was brilliant!

I have only knitted the beginning of a scarf, but found it difficult! Grrr....

Have a great day!

Casey said...

So glad you like it Mary. I agree about getting a step away from your work. I am taking a class right now on revising that is saying that exact same thing. :)

Casey said...

Mmmhmm. So there Pepper! It is brutal to rip into any work, and I will be the first to say that I HATE ripping out my knitting, but I will never to satisfied unless I do. I am a perfectionist at heart. :)

Casey said...

Thank you so much for stopping by Judy! I am so glad you liked the post. It was a joy to write. Two of my favorite things, rolled into one. :)

Casey said...

Oh, Sherrinda, you just need to take another crack at it! Knitting is so relaxing and I figured out how to do while readiing too! Read book on my kindle PC and knit away. Such a relaxing evening!

So glad you liked the post. :)