As I was posting the author spotlight this week for Morgan David, an author friend of mine who lives in Denmark, I was struck by the hand-knitted scarf he was wearing.
I have one that’s very similar, made for me by Mark’s mom Helen before she passed away. It’s a similar color and uses the same knitting technique.
I asked Morgan about it, and he said his own mother had knitted it for him.
And suddenly my writer brain started making connections.
Between his mother and Mark’s, two different women completing the same act for those they loved. Between Copenhagen and Sacramento, vastly different cities and cultures which suddenly had something in common. And between the present and the past, and the beautiful memories of Helen we still carry with us.
Connections are part of the writer’s stock and trade. There are no new things under the sun, as the saying goes, but there are always new ways to connect and combine them.
Look at interesting literary and film mash-ups, like Cowboys vs. Aliens or Pride, Prejudice and Zombies. They worked because they connected things that we’d never seen together before, to humorous or exciting effect.
Writer brains are strange connection machines. When we write, we combine personality traits from the people we know with our characters, pulling a little of Aunt Bernice’s sarcastic wit and melding it with the gracious manner and hospitality of Grandma Figgins. A connection between the fictional and the comforting and metaphorical real.
We also connect events in our lives with the fictional stories we tell. The memory of how it felt to be rejected by our first love becomes our character’s reality as he’s dumped by his first boyfriend and wallows in a tub of Ben & Jerry’s. The heart-pounding thrill of racing down a ski slope at maximum speed between the trees becomes a harrowing chase through an asteroid field.
Sometimes we make connections even we can’t see, that our subconscious mind (or that of the reader) picks up on. I still remember one reader commenting on a drowning swamp bear drifting by in a flood in Skythane – for me, it was a throw-away detail, but for that reader, it was a beautiful, haunting detail that made a deep connection with them.
Sometimes these connections don’t work – Space Jam, anyone? We can try too hard to bridge the gap, and end up jumping the shark. Happy Days and Fonzie on a surf board has become our apt metaphor for this.
But when they do work, they can add depth and uniqueness to a story, both for us authors and for our readers.
So I have become more aware of them in real life, and intentional about their use in my fiction.
Each of Helen’s scarves had a little tag sewn into it with her name and the name of the recipient, and they are something both Mark and I treasure. And now I know there are others out there who feel the same.
And who knows? I do plan to write more in my River City Chronicles universe one of these days. Maybe one of the characters will bond with their mother over a beautifully knitted scarf, and another multi-threaded connection will be made. Connections like these bring love and light into the little worlds we build as writers, and help them ring true to our readers.
So the next time I sit down to write, I’ll be thinking about what new connections I might craft for you, my readers. And in the process, I’ll leave a little of myself and those I have encountered in life behind in each story.
To my writer friends, what kinds of unique connections do you make in your stories? Are you sensitive to the connections you make between people, things and events in real life, too?