meanwhile, in Weird-Metaphor-Land . . . .

While dozing off last night, I came up with another weird metaphor for writing.

When sewing, if you stitch together two pieces of fabric whose seam edges are of equal length, you get a nice, straight, perfectly functional seam. But if you need more fullness in the garment — as you do when making skirts or shoulder seams for sleeves — then one technique is to cut one piece so its seam edge is longer than the edge you’re joining it to, and then pleat or gather the longer edge until it fits against the shorter one.

It’s important for me to take my time in writing something, to not leap on my ideas too quickly, because by taking it slowly, I give myself time to pleat or gather the story.

Here’s what I mean.

This came into my head because I had an idea while dozing off. It wasn’t a big idea; actually, it was just a complication of an idea, a way of adding depth (or in this metaphor, fullness) to the next bit of story. I knew from a while back that a scene would come when Lune would convey a certain piece of information to another character: that’s like the dots or notches you use to line up two pieces of fabric before stitching them. This needs to go here. And had I been sprinting through this book more quickly, that scene probably would have happened more or less straightforwardly, with no frills. But in between deciding I needed that scene and writing it (which I’m in the middle of at present), I had some time to think — and so the idea got more complicated. Lune isn’t going to want to convey that piece of information: there’s a bit of fullness. But she’ll end up having to: more gathering. And she’ll be in trouble for having tried to conceal it: now we’re getting somewhere. And she’ll owe someone a favor for not causing that trouble: that was last night’s pleat. Bit by bit, I’m adding these complications (and other, more spoilery ones I won’t describe) that don’t really create subplots or anything — I’m not adding in new pieces of fabric — but create more fullness in the subplots I already have, packing a greater amount of fabric/story into the space/seam provided.

Okay, now raise your hand if that made any sense to you.

(I suspect most of you with your hands up have experience with both writing and sewing.)

It’s good to let ideas sit for a while. Not only does it mean you have a chance to notice when they aren’t good ideas and replace them with better ones, it gives you time to improve on the ones that are already good. Other metaphors come to mind — I’m embroidering the idea, for example (what is it with me and textiles?) — but I like the three-dimensionality of this one. Because that’s what it feels like I’m doing: making the story more three-dimensional.

0 Responses to “meanwhile, in Weird-Metaphor-Land . . . .”

  1. pameladean


    My experience with sewing has been uniformly disastrous, but the demonstrations of my patient but unavailing teacher do at least allow your analogy to make sense.

    I’ve sometimes used the analogy of a crazy-quilt, where having to revise something in one part of the book necessitates removing bits and pieces all over and replacing them with bits and pieces that may be the same shape, but have to have different colors in them to draw the eye in the same way. I’m not at all sure that anybody makes a quilt that way, though.


    • Marie Brennan

      Quilting is not a form of textiling I know. I sew some, and do a small amount of weaving (one of my older metaphors is how tight the weave is on a particular bit of story, and whether I need to pull on certain threads to tighten something up, or release the tension somewhere so it stops bunching), but no quilting.

      I do love, though, finding out what metaphors other writers use. Our brains are really really weird places.

      • pameladean

        Weird, and not alike! It’s so cool.

        I also have a composting analogy, which is pretty straightforward; and a rock one, which very much isn’t.


        • Marie Brennan

          Composting is a pretty common one, I think, and I can kind of sort of understand the quilting one, though my familiarity with quilting is nil.

          . . . but you have me curious now about the rock analogy. 🙂

  2. rj_anderson

    I like that metaphor, though I’m with on the disastrousness of my own sewing career. And yes, you never know what will happen when you let an idea sit a while.

    • Marie Brennan

      I used to be afraid I’d lose ideas if I didn’t get them down right away; now I know that the ones I lose will be the ones that didn’t have any staying power anyway.

      (Which is a different matter from getting something down on the page when I get words in my head. Once I know how to say something, I need to chase it or it’s lost. But that’s the expression of the idea, not the idea itself.)

      • Anonymous

        (Houseboat here)

        I love metaphors like these!

        Unfortunately my ideas do flit away if not somehow recorded and tied into something. I’m still looking for a good metaphor for that. 🙂

  3. unforth


    Though I’m not very good at the gathering in bits of my story, I tend to think a bit too much in straight lines. I’m working on it. 😉

    I tend to see stories more as jigsaw puzzles, personally. Maybe that’s why my tolerance for Robert Jordan is so high. 🙂

  4. diatryma

    I really, really need to learn to sew better than I can. A laundry bag or cat hammock will impress my mother, but the backstitch, she is not pretty.

    I read Dress a Day, though, so here’s my hand in the air. And now I’m fighting off a metaphor involving bacteria and turbidity.

  5. thespisgeoff

    This playwright married to a tailor totally understands.

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