Sewing a story

One thing they never tell you when you’re learning how to write is that you write far more than ends up in the finished work. Writing a story is not like painting a picture. You’re not taking a blank canvas and adding acrylics or oils until it looks right.

I used to sew a lot when I was a young woman. I made most of my own and my mother’s clothes and my father’s shirts. When you make a garment you take a few metres of fabric and a paper pattern. You pin the pattern to the fabric and carefully cut around it until you have lots of odd shaped pieces which eventually become the collar or cuffs or the facing at the front of a shirt. As you sew the garment takes shape. Eventually, if you’ve got it right, it becomes a wearable garment.

But the process starts before then. I would design many of the clothes a made and modify exisiting patterns. Then I’d have to find the right type of fabric for the style of the garment. Fabric names were wonderful, many dating back centuries. It’s rare these days to hear words such as cambric and seersucker and challis, brocade and corduroy. Acrylic, nylon, and polyester sound scientific to me, they lack the romance of the old fabric names. And even when someone attempts a new word, such as “pleather”, it backfires a little when you realise it’s just vinyl by another name. Presumably the “pl” indicates its relationship to plastic.

Sewing is an excellent metaphor for writing a story. The initial design is the rough, overall plot. It may not even be an entire story. I’m planning a cosy mystery series based around a character who is highly sensitive. If Lucy were to hold your hand she would receive an image directly from your mind. She solves crimes this way, but of course she can’t say to the police, “I saw him stab/strangle/hit her over the head with a hammer when he touched me.” So the inherent conflict in the stories revolves around her finding other ways of explaining what she knows to be true. She’s a psychic Columbo with a touch of Miss Marple.

The process is little like finding a remnant of an exquisite brocade and working out what I could use it for. A waistcoat? An evening jacket?

In the book I’m about to release the female lead, Berenice, had something traumatic happen to her many years before. As the story is set in the twelfth century modern psychology cannot play a part – back then people come up with different ways of explaining aberrant behaviour. Something positive was attributed to God, negative to the Devil. This got a little tricky if the line between to the two was blurred. Francis of Assisi was almost condemned as a heretic and burnt at the stake for his teachings, many of which were in direct opposition to the official policies of the Church. (His famous poem Brother Sun and Sister Moon did not initially include any references to God.) Luckily he had important friends in the Vatican.

The stories I write come from the characters. To me they’re as important as the fabric I’d use to make a garment.

Today’s task is to check the character profiles of all the major characters in The Troubadour. Are their actions consistent with their personalities? How does the story change them? Is this believable?

More on this later…



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