Of Lace and Scarlet
Updated: Mar 2
I often compare writing to weaving. The plot is the warp (the long straight threads that give the fabric structure) and the characters are the weft (the threads that move between the warp and hold it together). But in storytelling-- in any art-- you must consider the part of the observer. They bring with them a vast set of experiences that you are hoping to tap into, and each observer will view the art differently. It is the reason why some people see Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights as romantic and others see him as downright creepy. But how do we account for this when writing a story?
Instead of weaving a complete and solid piece, with no room between threads, we must give space. We must make a weaving like lace. It is still its own thing, but the perspective of the reader is the cloth upon which that lace is laid. Take for example Molly Grue seeing the unicorn for the first time in Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn. Is she angry? Is she sad? Or is she both? Is the color of the cloth scarlet, blue, or violet?
When I was young, I could not understand her anger. She should be happy, she finally sees a unicorn. And to me, it was just anger, pure scarlet. But as I got older, I understood this scene better. I FELT this scene. It is the last thread of childhood dreams a single fiber thick come to fruition when she is too used up to feel deserving of it. It is sorrow at the loss of youth and anger at destiny for waiting so long. It is the final defiant cry of self in the face of what life has done to her. It is lace on indigo.
When writing, you must account for many types of readers. You can not direct the emotions of the reader. They will be what they are. All you can do is let go a little and offer a kind of vagueness that lets the reader fill in the rest. Molly says what she says and Mr. Beagle does not write us an explanation. He lets us create the explanation. He develops the characters but he does not micromanage them. He leaves room. This is writing in cooperation with the reader. Because to each reader, the story will be slightly different-- bolder, darker, sweeter-- depending on the circumstances that they carry. You tell the tale and the reader experiences it. But when the reader is given room and a chance to help create the story, it will weave itself to them. It will resonate deeper.
Oddly enough, I recently lived the above scene when I saw a deer unicorn while driving into town-- a much more common occurrence than the unicorns in Molly's world. It was something my grandmother had seen and something I pinned my childhood hopes on-- a bucket list item completely out of my control. As much as I wanted to yell at him, ask where he had been, I sat there dumbfounded, pointing out the car window yelling "Unicorn! Unicorn!" to my young daughter. And then he was gone with the rest of his herd and I found myself doubting what I had seen, left with only the hope I would see him again. What I felt in that moment was colored by everything that had happened to me and in so small way by Mr. Beagle's novel. I did my best to cast doubt aside and took it as a sign that maybe my own adventures were about to begin.