Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Lace vs. Subplots by Irene Radford

We are extremely pleased and honored to welcome author Irene Radford to the Salon. Her new novel in the Pixie Chronicles series, Chicory Up, is available now. Follow the links at the end of the post to get your copy today. Take it away, Irene!

In grade school, I fell in love with lace; the wearing of frothy trims made from thread and air, the elegance it added to formal gowns and wedding veils, and yes, the making of lace. The complex puzzle of weaving threads finer than a hair into patterns that defined the air between them challenged my mind as well as my manual dexterity. Concentrating on the click of bobbins, the cross, twist, cross, of the thread, counting stitches, the placement of pins to hold the cobweb in place became a meditation for me.

Jump forward a couple of decades and I find myself with the complex puzzle of weaving together subplots, and story arcs, and characters into similar patterns. In lace you can only do two things, right over left, or left over right. Rarely do you hold more than two pairs of bobbins in your hand at any one time. Twist, cross, twist, put down one pair, pick up the next in line.

In putting together a novel I find my characters like to jump over spaces and tangle with characters that aren’t in the geometric progression. The subplots like to dart off in odd directions. They make life more interesting that way.

Bobbin lace patterns are a series of dots printed onto thick card stock and often covered in clear plastic film. When I first started making lace my teacher made me use an arcane tool called a pricker—a needle held in a handle by a vise, very like a screw driver that you can change the heads on, but smaller and more delicate. I looked at the splatter of dots on the card and tried to make sense of this new language. Carefully I punched a hole in the pattern at each dot, trying to follow along in the order I would need to when I wove the threads and stuck a pin in each of those holes. Slowly I learned this new language and soon could look at the sequence of dots and know what to do with thread and pins. Gradually I also learned to trust myself and the thread enough to remove a pin from the back and place it in the next spot in the front. This released the lace to float free in part, while the working portion remained attached to the temporary loom of pins.

When I start a new book, I take a pile of note cards and write place markers on each, much like my pins, filling in details of character development, plot progression, the stages of the character’s journey and what plot elements I need to show this. Unlike lace, I rearrange the note cards a dozen or more times before I even begin to put words on paper.

Novels create their own logic as they go along. Lace has its own logic built into the pattern. I suppose if I tried freeform lace as some of my compatriots (fellow addicts) do, then I might be able to stretch this analogy a little further. I can make the same lace pattern over and over. Indeed I do when doing a long strip of edging or trim, repeat after repeat for several yards.

In books no two are alike. But looking for the patterns within patterns, finding the right path for characters to follow is similar to working a complex lace style. Figuring it out, finding the arcane logic within the dots, without trashing the entire project is just like writing a book.

Sometimes I succeed on the first try. Most times I don’t. But that’s what second drafts of a book are for. I can also back out lace to fix a mistake almost as rapidly and cleanly as I can put in new pins. That takes practice, for both arts.

Here is the blurb for Chicory Up:

Skene Falls, Oregon, is not only home to Desdemona and Benedict Carrick and their parents, but is also the dwelling place of the Pixies. When Thistle Down was exiled from Pixie and stranded in a human body, it marked the beginning of a campaign that would prove dangerous to all.

Get your copy at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

1 comment:

Ella Gray said...

Such an enlightening post! Thanks for sharing your methods with us, Irene :-)

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