Little Red Riding Hood: a Practical Application for Writers
Recently I made a cape for Red Riding Hood. Not a fancy cape: just two pieces cut out from a pattern, pinned, tacked and sewn. Now, I haven’t turned to my sewing box for more than a button or a stitch in time for (ahem) some decades now. Since I was at school, in fact. So it took me rather longer than it would have taken a dressmaker – or indeed anyone of my parents’ generation, used as they were to making and mending.
As I sat crossed-legged on the living room floor with my mouth full of pins and looking like the Tailor of Gloucester, I fell to thinking as I worked. I may not normally make dresses (or capes or skirts) but I do make stories (and articles and poems and, as of today, blog posts). They have more in common than I thought.
First of all you plan. You can’t go in to John Lewis and ask an assistant for a plan for a novel (wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could!) but when sewing you have to decide what you want to make and what you want to make it of in just the same way that you have to choose your genre, your point of view, your location. Then when you’ve done that you have to start making (or writing).
Placing the pattern and cutting it out, I decided, roughly equates to the planning stage - though at least in a novel you can go back and add more if you need it whereas I discovered for myself the perils of taking too much off. (It was a shorter cape than I had originally intended.)
Then I pinned it and I repinned it. I tacked and, when the first piece unravelled because I’d forgotten to tie it off, I re-tacked it. This reminded me uncannily of the plotting stage, where you if you fail to tie off all your literary ends the whole story falls apart.
The analogy doesn’t hold up much beyond this. There comes a point with dressmaking where you start the sewing machine and there really is no going back; with a novel you can carry on tweaking until Kingdom Come unless someone takes it out of your hands or a deadline steals it away. And, unlike my cape, I don’t think a novel is ever really finished.
Red Riding Hood looked great, since you ask....