Writing Challenge #8: Behind-the-Scenes Engineering

My friend Raya designed this intricate baby sweater, which I knitted in the three-month size.

I recently completed Cascade, a baby cardigan, for a friend due this month.

What looks like a sweet, simple leaf design is actually a complex feat of engineering. The designer is Raya Budrevich of Blissful Knits & Dyeworks, known for her stunning color combinations as well as her fun and festive baby patterns.

As I was knitting the first leaf of Cascade, I couldn’t picture how it’d all come together. I blindly followed the pattern and was amazed with the results. Raya not only envisioned this beautiful baby sweater, but she knit it from scratch, then translated it into easy-to-follow instructions in a number of sizes.

Just to give you an idea of the complexity of the design, it takes 12 rows of pattern to make each leaf on the placket, and those are done simultaneously with the raglan increases, setting stitches aside for the sleeves and other typical sweater tasks.

Sometimes we read a story or a book that makes us wonder, “How did the author pull THAT off?” That’s sort of how I felt while knitting Raya’s pattern. Astonished and a little envious of her ability to construct something so elegant.

Here’s your assignment. Pick a favorite story, novel or memoir, preferably something you’ve read recently so it’s fresh in your mind. List the elements that amazed or surprised you on a piece of paper, leaving room beside each. Perhaps you loved the voice or the way the author used language. Or maybe you admired how several point-of-view characters were juggled. Just jot down your thoughts.

Now think about how the text works, its behind-the-scenes construction. Deconstruct it the way a knitter studies a pattern. How did the author accomplish the what you admire? For instance, if you listed the author’s use of language, how did the word choice, rhythm and voice enrich or reflect the content of the story?

Finally, study your list and see how can you incorporate one or two of those elements in your work-in-progress.

About Laura Stanfill

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

7 Responses to Writing Challenge #8: Behind-the-Scenes Engineering

  1. tamarapaulin says:

    I’m a pretty cynical reader, so whenever I notice my heartstrings or my interest level being tugged, I take notice. I recently read The Help and found that it did both very effectively, and is probably partly why it’s such a huge bestseller. I started noticing how the author weaved in story questions (hooks). It suddenly became as clear as if she’d written notes (just to me! ha!) in red pen. On one page, the answer to a miniature mystery, and on the very next page, a brand new mystery.

    At the risk of sounding like a crystal-wielding new-ager, I edit with my body. I get an actual pulling sensation in my middle when I feel something is hook-y/good.

    • So interesting, Tamara! Thanks for sharing your experience with The Help and how you were able to deconstruct it to the point of discovering how she did it. (I haven’t read that one yet, although I’ve certainly heard all the buzz about it.)

      Editing with your body–how cool. Do you work on this process at a desk? I love the image of a writer sitting down and being pulled toward her computer!

      • tamarapaulin says:

        I’m so new-agey. I usually get the “pull” from other people’s work, as my own doesn’t surprise me, so it’s typically for print books or printed pages from my crit group.

        I noticed when I was talking a course, that I could hear a difference in the room when the work being read out loud got interesting. People were always polite, of course, but the tiny movement sounds would cease, as though the room was holding its breath.

  2. Great challenge! I’ll have to find some time to try it out :D.

  3. Jennifer says:

    Ooh, good challenge! I’ve been reading a few literary-type flash fictions, and I’m in awe of how something can seem so simple yet be so complex. I took one that made me go “huh” at the end, and when I re-read it, every element set up the ending. It was just so subtle that fast readers don’t take it in very well. I didn’t re-do a novel chapter with this, but I did try my own flash fiction – and it worked! Not a classic, but not half-bad, either.

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