When I was in college, I went on a retreat. One of the skills I learned during the weekend was basket weaving. It was a lovely art, both in what I ended up with, and how I got there. In other words, the process led to a product I was proud of: a tightly woven basket with an intricate design of my own creation.
Writing a novel, I find, parallels that experience. The warp of my story is the primary structure, and the woof is the way I hold it together by weaving in and out of the structure with the scenes and details that make it distinctly my own design. Sometimes, I make an impulsive change in the course of the weaving of my tale, which then affects the entire design, and I end up with a different – but even better – story than I had anticipated; sometimes, I find the change is a mistake, which means I have to unravel back to that point and make corrections.
Unlike crafting a basket, however, the task of weaving a story gives me a dimension of creativity the basket doesn’t allow: I can add in even more layers – more woof – after my initial story is complete. When I finish a basket, the weaving is of one piece – I can’t cut out a section of threads and replace it, or expand it, and expect the basket to hold together.
With writing, though, I find the extra woof is what gives the story its defining success. In revision, I can add a new character to further complicate the plot or add comic relief. While the main structure of the work doesn’t change, that new character can help breathe more interest into interactions with, and between, other characters. In the case of my mysteries, I often create a character in the revision process who can help move my story through spots that are weak or slow, especially when I need some red herrings thrown in to mislead my readers. I created one such character in my first book as a last-minute thought to complement one of the subplots, only to have readers so enjoy the character, that they repeatedly asked me to bring him back in a later book!
Adding in subplots that reflect the primary plot is another trick to elaborating on my initial story design. When revising, I try to give almost every character some personal issue that can tie into another character’s. Doing so not only makes the characters more real – who, in real life, doesn’t have problems to deal with? – but it affords me more opportunities to weave in conflict, which adds to the story’s pacing. My solution to keeping track of the characters and subplots is the creation of a master flow chart that follows each element of the story from beginning to end. That way, I accomplish every weaver’s goal: no loose ends.
What are your favorite threads to add to the warp and woof of your writing?