I’ve finished yet another draft of my work-in-progress, and it has me thinking in embroidery metaphors. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know I like to cross-stitch. I once posted about how I wished I had a pattern to follow, and then followed up with an ironic post about having to tear out a thousand stitches because I’d followed the pattern incorrectly (actually about the R&R I received).
With this particular manuscript, I keep thinking in terms of threads. I do really intricate cross-stitch scenes. This is Rapunzel, who hangs in my daughter’s room. I am amazed by the artist who created this pattern. For the majority of this scene, I had to use two different colors twisted together, and there are hundreds of combinations within this picture, plus all of the outlining and detail work. It took me about a year and a half to complete. This is what I do while I’m watching TV. I can’t just sit still. Anyway, my point is, there are thousands of threads twisted together to create this scene. A single color might be combined with ten other colors at different points in the scene to create just the right combination. I don’t even know how the artist imagines that.
Say you decided to eliminate one color. It would be quite a challenge to go through and find all of the places it’s twisted in with another color and weave it out of the picture.
That’s kind of what I had to do with this manuscript. I had this major thread I decided to include in the original draft of the manuscript–this big twist that I wanted to spring on readers. I knew it was a huge risk and might not work, but I figured, why not? It doesn’t hurt to try. And if I do pull it off, it could be really cool. When I sent it out to my first round of readers, the feedback was unanimous: Don’t do this! I kind of grinned to myself and thought, yeah, I was afraid of that.
So I wrote the thread out, thinking I’d fixed it, and sent the manuscript off to a second round of readers. Those comments trickled in, and I noticed something. Yes, I’d fixed the main thread, but some of the other things they commented on were still connected to things I’d written in because of that original plot point. Hmm. Let’s try this again. I revised again and sent to a third round of readers. Surely I’d fixed those dangling threads this time.
Round three comments. Two more dangling threads! Subplots that were distracting readers from my main plot, like literal threads teasing a cat. They kept annoying readers, and it wasn’t until they’d annoyed readers through three rounds that I realized they shouldn’t be there at all! That they were only there in the first place to support that original plot thread that no longer existed. The story flowed so much better once I reworked those threads into the new pattern. In the end it turned out even my first chapter was one of those dangling threads. Fortunately as part of the latest revision I had rewritten the second chapter in such a way it could fill in as a new first chapter.
So here I am at draft four. I think I’ve finally tracked down all of those dangling threads. At the moment I’m kind of regretting that “Why not?” moment when I first started drafting, but if I hadn’t tried it, I probably would have always wondered if it could have worked.
How do you track down your dangling threads? Do you have a system? Or do you rely on your readers to help you spot them? If there’s an easier way, I’d like to know!