Thursday, August 14, 2008

Pulling back the curtain

Tiny stitches in something hand sewn equals craftsmanship. I know because I read a lot of Regency romances in college. You know…instead of studying actual history. And in those books, the ladies who were really good with needlework could make tiny stitches and create elaborate hunting scenes on pillow covers that no one was allowed to sit on. But I digress.

My point is, in sewing, when the stitches are tiny enough to be barely discernible, it is work well done. It’s the same with writing.

I’ve worn hundreds of items of store bought clothes in my life and never considered the stitching unless it came out. Never thought about the quality of the seam, or its invisibility. But I don’t sew. I bet if I did, I would notice more. My mom did. She liked to check the hems on pants to make sure they were well-constructed before she bought them, and she’d give new buttons a little tug to check their fastness. She knew what to look for.

And that’s how I am when I read now. The best stuff is the kind where you can’t see the stitches, where it’s…seamless. But I notice when the craftsmanship is lacking. Despite being a voracious reader my entire life, this is a new phenomenon. It only started when I decided to write. It makes reading both better and worse. It’s better in the sense that well-constructed pieces, the ones that feel effortless and whole, and are authentic regardless of their gravity or lack of it…those pieces are a soul-satisfying pleasure. I can only sit back and wonder at the detail. It’s worse in that when an author is trying too hard, you can see the stitches where they try to hold a story together with images or manufactured plot conflicts.

It’s an odd experience. Part of me wishes I could go back to the other side of reading where the story works or it doesn’t and I don’t really notice how each phrase is turned or each word is placed. But then I read something so effortless and I recognize either the sheer genius or sheer persistence the writer tapped to make it seamless. Then I think, it was worth the handful of sloppy stitches I had to pick out to get there, to find that perfect sentence.


tricki_nicki said...

I love this! I think about this all the time when I'm reading - but when I'm writing my own blog entries I'm not quite sure how to make it happen.

How does one do this? Why is it possible to recognize it in others' writings but not in my own? And is this something you have to learn, or is it natural?

Ok, those are my deep thoughts of the day. I need a nap now.

Stephanie Humphreys said...

Isn't it true. Knowing what to look for almost ruins the experience sometimes, but when you find that perfect story, it's all worth it. My problem is that I am a professional seamstress as well, so I notice the bad sewing and the bad writing. It about makes me crazy. :)

Annette Lyon said...

A lot of the time I wish I could go back to when I could read for the sake of reading and NOT have that writer brain yelling the whole time.

If something isn't working, it drives me nuts and I mentally rewrite it. If it does work, I'm analyzing why and taking notes.

Heidi said...

How coincidental! I, too, read Regency romances as my history fix all through college. I'm quite confident I could serve as a Regency Era expert. At least if there's a romance involved.

And yes, good writing seems effortless. But it's not.

Alison Wonderland said...

It's so true that you get so that you can't help but notice the bad writing. except in your own stuff. Me, I could be the worst writer ever, I would never know.

Heidi Ashworth said...

The second book I ever picked up to read was Georgette Heyer's The Talisman Ring. (The first was Jemima Puddleduck by Beatrix Potter). I didn't get far (I was four) but I was really enchanted with the cover. I have read hundreds of Regencies since then. I have been writing for almost as long and I totally agree with what you are saying. I think I read somewhere that you have a published book--that certainly makes it worse! My first book comes out in December and it has really changed how I see things. There are a lot of books that don't hold any appeal for me anymore whatsoever. Another thing that really UNsuspends the disbelief for me is meeting the author. There was a cherished series of books, long lengthy tomes that I adored and was sooooo into and even sorta kinda deep down thought of the characters as being real. Then I went to a book signing and saw the creator in flesh and blood. After that, I still read the further adventures of said characters but it just wasn't the same. Maybe not a bad thing since I was kind of obsessed. . . Yet, I feel the way you do, a book has to be incredible before my brain can stop working on the construction. The same thing happened with ballet--one of my obsessions from early on. Then I saw Nureyev dance and he didn't do much better than I. (He was pretty darn old by that time and really shouldn't have been dancing at all). It is kind of sad, really. I just don't have the same awe for books I used to have. But, there is a silver lining to every cloud--I am sure to enjoy food for as long as I am never learn to cook!

Heidi Ashworth said...

By the way I was not referring to Stephenie Meyer. And P.S. my book is a Regency romance.