When creating a piece of fabric on a loom, the weaver interlaces threads to create a pattern, whether simple or complex. The threads that run longitudinally are called the warp, while those running laterally are called the weft. I’ve often thought that a story is very much like weaving. The warp is the structure, or plot, of the story. On it hangs the weft, which includes things like theme, characterization, and details of the time period and the characters’ lives that flesh out the plot and cause readers to care about what’s happening. Just as a weaver works back and forth across the loom, the storyteller works back and forth across the breadth and length of the story, weaving in the details that create a coherent and beautiful pattern.
Right now as I’m working back and forth at my story loom while writing Valley of the Shadow, I’m struggling with structural elements that are more complex than any I’ve written before, and I’m wondering how well they’re going to integrate. This installment of the series starts off with a perilous rescue, progresses through a wrenching aftermath, and transitions to the winter at Valley Forge, which includes a brief return to the Shawnee community. A desultory summer campaign follows, and the story concludes with the beginning of a new journey.
How to weave these disparate elements together without ending up with jarring transitions? I worry about that, but then I also wonder whether that’s necessarily a major problem. After all, aren’t unsettling changes a natural part of life? I’ve had them in mine, and I suspect you’ve had them in yours too. Life can turn on a dime, and the occasional jarring transition might add a dose of reality to the story world, just as Elizabeth’s capture in Crucible of War did. In that case there were numerous warnings of increasing danger, but she ignored them and suffered the consequences. How altogether human! Robert Fulghum illustrated that humorously in his book It Was on Fire When I Lay Down on It.
Overall, of course, a story needs to hang together and transitions need to make sense in the context of what’s gone before. Too many abrupt changes are likely to give readers a sense that the story—and maybe the author—is out of control. We all want control, don’t we—if not in our own lives, then in the lives of fictional characters in a story? So I continue to wrestle with how to weave all the elements together in such a way that will keep readers flipping those pages and reading long into the night.
What unsettling transition have you had in your life that seemed jarring and out of control at the time? How well did you handle it? Are you still dealing with it, or are you able to look back on it now and see how God was weaving your life on His great loom?
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