Writing and Weaving: How’s your warp and weft?

…the art of weaving has some strong parallels to the craft of writing

weaving a story

composite image by j. bessey

Do you feel like your writing has become unexciting and one-dimensional? Sometimes we get so focussed with getting words onto paper that we forget to consciously work on our craft, and our writing begins to feel stale.

Fortunately, thinking about your writing in a new way is often enough to make changes that bring it back to life.

Writing is like other creative arts: it can be conventional or innovative; inspiration and interest can be found in traditional or new sources; and an idea can come from within our speciality or from other art forms.

While writers can learn lessons about craft from all of the creative arts, the art of weaving has some strong parallels to the craft of writing. We’ve all heard the expression “weave a tale.” Have you ever given thought to what that means? Webster’s definitions of weave includes: “2a) to construct in the mind or imagination b) to work (details, incidents, etc.) to make a story, poem, etc.” Weaving is an art form that many of us take for granted. But, maybe it’s time to consider what we can learn from this skill that predates writing.

Make the joints as strong as possible

1. Start with a solid loom

The loom is the framework you use to create a beautiful finished product. It’s built from many pieces that are carefully fit together. The best looms have mortise and tenon joints, which are exceptionally strong and help create a solid structure.

Writers begin with an idea. If you take care to tie the important pieces of your idea together, you create a strong structure that is ideal to build a story upon. The more complex your idea, the more complex your structure must be.

What pieces do you need? Begin with the five basic elements of any story: character, plot, setting, conflict, and resolution. Decide the qualities of these elements early so they can act as a structure that you create your story on. Use them to build your writing loom.

While you don’t need all of the details at this point, you need enough to get a feel for how well these pieces fit together. Make the joints as strong as possible early in the process or the next steps won’t be successful. If the connections are weak, your loom will collapse, taking your story with it.

Pull on one and watch the whole thing unravel

2. Lay out your warp

The warp is made up of the vertical threads into which everything else is woven.

How does a good warp affect the finished cloth? If the threads aren’t perfectly aligned or tightly secured, the end product will be uneven, leaving gaps. Most importantly, a poor warp is full of loose threads which will leave unsightly flaws in the fabric. The dangers of a loose thread? Pull on one and watch the whole thing unravel. A carefully constructed warp will fix those problems.

A warp is the weaving equivalent of a writer’s outline.

I rarely used outlines until I started freelancing and needed to write good first drafts quickly if I hoped to make money. An outline acts as your prewriting checklist that helps ensure the pieces that you used to build your loom will line up and are structurally sound.

An outline helps ensure that none of your story threads will unravel, leaving holes that detract from your finished product. It helps you spot loose threads which are the bane of any storyteller. Loose threads in writing are those plot elements that don’t fit nicely into the rest of the story and leave your reader hanging. They are the loose ends that can unravel the entire project.

Build your outline as carefully as a good weaver sets the warp, and you will prevents all sorts of problems at later stages.

Choose patterns that are unexpected 

3. Add the weft

A fabric’s weft is all of the threads that build up the texture, color, and pattern. This is where the artistic elements of cloth are developed.

What makes up the weft of your writing? The details that fill out the plot, characters, and setting that went into building your loom.

For plot, add some twists by weaving a new thread into complicated patterns. You don’t want your reader to guess the story before it unfolds, so weave in carefully chosen elements that add surprises and originality. Choose patterns that are unexpected to keep your reader interested.

Characters who are too consistent are flat and dull, but adding texture makes them more realistic and interesting. A smooth talker should have some rough edges, while a course man can become more dimensional when you add softness that only shows itself occasionally. Your reader will want to spend time examining the lights and shadows created by the contrasts you’ve woven into your characters.

You can make the physical setting of your story more interesting by adding color. Choose colors that work with your story. For example, Victorian London was smoky, dirty, and grey. If you want your color palette to blend with your story, don’t write in too many bright, sunny days.

As you weave the warp into the weft, be careful. You don’t want a gaudy end product that is full of badly placed details that detract from the skill of your craft. Rather, you want to include features that enrich your story, and pull your reader along as you weave each element into the others.

If we learn to use the techniques of weaving in writing, we can create richly textured tapestries that we’ll be proud to display.

Happy weaving.


Rhonda KronykRhonda Kronyk is a full-time professional editor. She left a skilled-trades career to pursue her love of the English language. Please visit her editing website to get to know her better. Or find Rhonda on Facebook.

questionAre you a skilled story weaver? What are your favorite techniques for keeping your writing interesting and intriguing? Share your tips in Comments, below.

 

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Comments

  1. I love this metaphor, Rhonda!

    You’ve given us some great insights into ways we can weave better stories, thanks.

  2. What a great metaphor! And wonderful advice, beautifully written. Thank you, Rhonda. :-)

  3. Thanks, Rhonda. You’ve included a few thought-provoking analogies.

    I especially like your remark: “Characters who are too consistent are flat and dull”.

    • You’re welcome Kathy. I think I’ve read too many of those dull characters – I love complex characters that do the unexpected. Especially if they are so well written that the unexpected is still within the realm of possibility

  4. A wonderful metaphor. I didn’t realize there was so much involved in weaving. It makes sense to compare weaving to writing. I need to apply those elements into short stories.

  5. Katharine says:

    Hello! What a great thing to read on my first, ever, visit here! Thanks so much!
    One question: In some cases, can a non-fiction book (self-help) be considered as having plot, characters, etc.? Or if it is anecdotal in its presentation, can each small story be thought of as a character? Or am I just too much of a story-teller to write non-fiction. :)
    Thanks!

    • What a solid question, Katherine!

      I think you’re right — there’s plenty of room for plot/characters/etc in non-fiction. Notice how the Reader’s Digest almost always starts out their articles with a “story” to hook the reader. “Make me care” is a valid premise for everything we write, even when it’s “How to Bedazzle a Tee-Shirt,” for instance.

      Story-telling reigns as the most powerful way to convey information, whether you’re creating poetry, a song, a screenplay, or a book in any genre. Give me a campfire, the sound of crickets, and tell me a story any time!

  6. Actually, the word “text” comes from a latin root that is directly associated with the art of weaving (see http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=text).
    My memory plays tricks on me right now, but I can swear there’s one more, very common word for writing that also has to do with weaving and fabrics. I really need to remember it…

    • Well that’s pretty cool. Thanks, Helene!

    • Katharine says:

      Helene,
      “Text” gives us “texture” and “textiles”.
      We “weave” a tale. (Also, “tela” is a Latin-rooted word for “fabric”.)
      And, many a “thread” runs through a fascinating story, right?
      When I was a child, I tried to learn “tablet” weaving, which uses small cards and only four threads.
      This is a stretch, maybe, but everything in weaving must be “parallel”.
      Okay. Back to my own business! :)

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