Sunday, April 10, 2011

Lace-Making and Things that Are Better Left Unsaid

When you make lace, what you're really doing is framing negative space.
It's what you leave out that leaves space for the eye to delight in the structure of what's there.
I've been experimenting with lace-making lately, in my hobby of crochet. And as I work with yarn and hook, the structure that grows under my fingers reminds me of the work of writing a story.

All the things you shouldn't say
There are two parts of writing. First, is the trying to figure out what happens. Not making up what happens, mind. Trying to figure it out. Walking around the story and poking it and trying to make it give up its secrets. Whistling and glancing around pretending you're not paying attention so that maybe the story will go ahead and act itself out and then you can wrestle it down and figure out the plot.
Second is the writing. Which is, essentially, sitting there and watching the scene in your head and saying, "I can see it. But how to I say it?" In the scene I'm working on, there are a million things I could write about. There are three people there. I could write about how they look, how they sound, how they feel, how they smell. I've got one point-of-view character - I can write about how she feels at every moment of the story (and how we feel changes from one minute to the next, and the scene is many minutes long). I can write about what she thinks about what has happened to her, what is happening to her and what she thinks is about to happen to her. I can write down every word that comes out of the characters' mouths. And we haven't even gotten to setting. Or theme. Or action.
But if I wrote everything I can see happening in the scene, the scene would be as long as the novel ought to be. I have to choose. What is most important, what tells the story, what moves it forward, which details tie it to every other scene in the story? And once I have chosen which parts of the scene actually have to be on the page, I have to figure out which words will convey those parts.
Sit. Stare at the scene in my mind. Ask, how do I say this? how do I say it, how do I say it, how do I say it? Choose some twelve words. Read them. Tweak them. Start trying to write the next sentence.
It's no wonder I always feel like I'm leaving too much out. Writing seems to be a matter of choice, and when you choose one word, you are always not choosing every other word in the universe.**
But it's like making lace. You leave space for the eye to wander in, and that lets the eye behold the structure. You don't want it to be crowded, you want it to be ordered, you want it to be creative. You want it to be beautiful.

You want the eye of the beholder to have room to do its work.
Peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

**Thanks, again, to my friend Elena, who is the first person who ever pointed out to me that this is what all choice consists of. Every time you say "yes" to one thing, you're saying "no" to everything else in the universe.

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