Text and textiles: Feeling sheepish about your woolly description?4 min read

by Jun 9, 2017Writing0 comments

If you’ve read Mark Forsyth’s The Etymologicon, or followed any part of his blog, The Inky Fool, you might already know this.  An apology if this is a repeat for you.

I do a lot of knitting and crochet, but I’ve never noticed the overlap with wool and writing.  As The Inky Fool says, “we weave stories together and embroider them and try to never lose the thread”.  Text and textile.  How did I not spot this?

It all comes from the Romans.  (As most things do that don’t come from the Greeks, the Persians or the home planet of Xgfp.)  The Institutio Oratoria contains everything you never needed to know about rhetoric.  And Quintilian, the author of this twelve volume beastie, described how words should be woven and set the standard for using these phrases in relation to stories.

Okay, nice interesting piece of pub quiz trivia.  So what?

So Sunday is Make Life Beautiful Day.  It’s meant to be for celebrating the people in your life that make it better, but I take it more literally.  I like to celebrate the people making life visually more beautiful.  The crafters.  Without people weaving words, my life would be less full.  But without people making wild fan-inspired clothes and painting ridiculously gorgeous digital prints for me to buy on Etsy, my world wouldn’t look as beautiful.  But my love of real world aesthetics doesn’t often leak into my writing.

The honest truth is I hate writing description.

So in the past week I’ve been thinking about how we write patterns for knitting and crochet, and whether there is something that I can learn from that type of instructional writing.

When you write a pattern (or a schematic, or a piece of code), your eye isn’t often on the whole picture.  Instead you are focused on the segment you are working on now.  The next granny square in your quilt, or the next line of your scarf.  Patterns move your mind away from the whole, to the detail.  And this is interesting when we think about writing description.

One of the fundamental mistakes I make, and that stops me from enjoying descriptive passages, is that I try to describe everything.  The entire outfit.  The whole vista.  Every wildly vibrating molecule of the spaceship.  It bogs me down.  It makes writing feel like work.

If I think like a pattern writer, could focused description work instead?  The human mind has an amazing ability to fill in the blanks.  Instead of the whole field, describe the single flower and watch the reader populate the rest of the view.

When I write I see everything in my mind, and I’m desperate to get that visual across to my reader accurately.  It makes my writing boring.  Half the fun of reading is imagining this new universe yourself, so let’s not take that pleasure away from our readers.

How do you feel about writing description?  Are there any conventions you follow?

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