Sew Your Story

Sew Your Story 

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That story draft seems all over the place—so many threads to tie together, but how?

Sound familiar? As an adjunct instructor and a writing tutor, one issue I see my students struggle with is focus, and I’ve found that sewing is the best solution for it.

Sewing? Yes! Stitching, embroidering, darning—any way to apply a metaphorical needle and thread to your writing to make it finally “come together” in a beautiful tapestry.

Find your Threads

When the students I tutor give me something with ten different main ideas, I get overwhelmed. I can’t figure out what their thesis and purpose is, and know their instructor won’t either. So I ask them “what connections do these ideas have?” Sometimes, I steal a bit of wisdom from an influential teacher I once had, asking, “What are the threads that hold these pieces together?”’

If the students can’t figure out what those pieces are, then I tell them to just pick one thing to focus on. However, if they can find a thread to tie all the pieces together, then that thread becomes their thesis, and they use what we call transition, topic and concluding sentences to highlight how the different pieces of their essay connect to the thesis. I tell them the conclusion should gently remind the reader of the connections and thesis and leave them with one final insight.

As my students manage to do this, their wildly confusing and unfocused essays become beautiful things: coherent, meaningful words sewn together to lead readers to some great insight or persuade them to adopt a point of view.

Like a patchwork quilt, all their ideas are connected in just the right order, and if the stitches are tight enough, you can’t see the thread. Similar to Junot Diaz, they use words such as “diaspora” and “dope” in the same essay, or, like Annie Dillard, they weave seamless connections between things like football, snowballs and giving it your all.

This same method can be applied to fiction.

If you find there is a lot going on in your story, try to find the threads. What connects all those different pieces together? Ask yourself why you want to include them all in the first place. How does panicking in the grocery story, going for a run and dancing in the rain show a change in a character or a lesson learned? If you can answer that question, you have a story I would read.

Stitching your story can involve more than just connecting seemingly unrelated events.

If a patch of dialogue feels forced or flat, cut it out and throw it on the scrap pile.

Take a new, more appropriate skein and sew it in snugly so the reader never knows it was a replacement.

Use Scissors

Last summer, I was submitting chapters from my novel to my writing group. At first, they were praising my dialogue for its authenticity. Even though the characters were fighting demons and using chocolate to barter with pixies, my readers, who preferred realism to fantasy, were able to suspend their disbelief and enjoy a genre they usually shunned.

That was, until they got to Chapter 10, where the stitches holding the realism and fantasy together slackened, and the dialogue became a cheesy info dump where the reader was bombarded with information about the world.

Out came the metaphorical scissors, snipping slovenly sewn stitches. I threw the faulty dialogue into the scrap bin so I could access that information later, and rewrote the scene with some guidance from Noah Lukeman’s The First Five Pages, imagining my readers already knew everything about the world.

After completing my rewrite, I carefully examined the places where the new text met the old; sewing them together with the subtlest sutures I could manage. The new scene fit better than the old and, so far, it has survived feedback from three beta readers and at least as many revisions.

Patch it Up

Every time I revise my novel, I’m tightening the stitches between the characters, their words, their actions and the world they live in. I’m putting colorful patches over plot holes and tears in the logic. I’m snipping the strings dangling from the edges and rearranging the complex backstory until it’s stitched into the text in the just the right place. I won’t stop until I’ve converted the chaos into an intricate pattern of emotion, action and change.

In the process, I’m not afraid to make a mess, and you shouldn’t be either. Tackle the complicated. Include as many layers of craziness as you want. If you can identify the threads that hold your story together, carefully picking the colour and method of stitching, then you can interlace all your pieces into one beautiful quilt of creativity.

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Sara has been writing fiction since she was in the first grade. One of her earliest works was in a journal she was required to keep for school. It was supposed to be about real things, so her teacher was not very happy to read about a boy who put on a cape, jumped off of a garage, and flew.

Now, Sara teaches writing at Northern Essex Community College. When she is not teaching or grading papers, she enjoys reading and writing Young Adult Fantasy and Flash Fiction. She is in the process of revising her novel.

She recently won 2nd place in the Women on Writing Flash Fiction Contest. Her fiction has appeared in or is forthcoming several online publications such as 101Fiction, Foliate Oak, Sick Lit Magazine, Fantasy Crossing and Mash Stories. You can find her online at saracodair.com

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