Tapping into the Language of a Story World

During intermission at a theater performance this weekend, a woman asked me about my handmade vest. It was the Back to School pattern by Stephanie Japel, and I used a Yarnia blend of wool and a strand of rayon. Our several-minute conversation felt like chatting with an old friend–not a stranger–because we had a particular language in common.

This is an old in-progress photo of my vest, which was finished in 2009, and remains one of my warmest hand-knit garments due to the heavy wool in my custom Yarnia blend.

For me, terms are as much a part of the knitting as the actual craft. I love recognizing pattern names, researching designers, familiarizing myself with yarn brands and talking with friends about upcoming projects.

Ravelry serves as my encyclopedia for this particular language. Knitters and crocheters can post photos of their creations, look up yarns to see what others have made and participate in a global community of fiber lovers. It’s where I go before starting any knitting project. And whenever I need a fix of texture, color and inspiration.

Each world has its own vocabulary. In fiction, that world should come to life in a way that illuminates, or charms, or threatens, its inhabitants. A character can’t be fully realized unless he or she is interacting with the environment in a believable, organic way. The plant that grows out of a certain patch of soil is separate from the soil, but is affected by its consistency, its moisture levels and its PH balance.

My finished novel, Body Copy, makes the most of small-town newspaper jargon. Deadline. Cutline. Morgue. White space. It’s a kind of poetry, isn’t it? My first drafts were full of that poetry–and not much else.

As I kept churning out revisions, though, I realized my protagonist had internalized the journalist’s creed and misapplied it to her personal relationships. That’s when her character grew fully three-dimensional, and the story really took root. What started as an impulse to record the language of a specific world–a dingy space with old carpet and fluorescent light, where people take notes and recycle press releases and sort faxes and use other people’s words in quotes–led me to the heart of the story.

Now, as I’m world-building for my historical novel, another kind of language is taking hold. I’m allowing myself to use ridiculously wonderful words (like comeuppance and vermillion). And my protagonist is slowly coming to life in the space I’m drafting for him. He’s waking up in this world, and I’m finding my way, sentence by sentence, into his stubborn head.

About Laura Stanfill

Publisher, Forest Avenue Press
This entry was posted in Community, Knitting, Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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