Braiding Technique

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“A braided piece is one that uses different strands – usually three separate story lines or topics, alternating topics sequentially between each of the three lines. Most movies are braided – there’s a main story, with one large conflict and usually one smaller conflict, and then there’s a subplot. Most commercials and news stories are also simple braids with two strands – there’s an A roll and a B roll. Thus, in the foreground is the main story being told by the huckster or newscaster that is interspersed with footage showing all kinds of images that support and illustrate the main point.

The simplest stories – the ones little kids love, and the ones they tell- are usually not braided. The duck is lost, the duck needs its mother, the duck is lonely, the mother duck appears with snacks. When kids relate their dreams, it’s usually a sequence, with no braiding: The monster was big, he was purple, he ate the family, and then he went to the moon, and there was a lot of candy there. It was good. Braids – story lines interwoven to create the whole piece- add depth, energy, layers, tension, and insight to your creative writing. Braids allow you to establish and play with pattern. For adult readers, a good piece of writing usually needs to have more than one thing going on. Braiding is terrific and easy way to keep your reader reading.

Writing a Braid

  1. Make a list of the twenty aspects of your life that are or have been absolutely most difficult  for you. They should be action-oriented, not head-oriented. Dating, auditioning, getting engaged (a different kind of auditioning), buying a new car, dealing with a court case, moving out from your apartment and into a new place, being on the curling team – those are lively and dramatically oriented. Trying to choose a major, deciding to go to law school, thinking about how weird your family is – those are hard to braid because they aren’t scenes and images; they are thoughts. You need passions that take you out into a new world. Things you are not very good abut care about immensely (Dinty’s fatherhood experience, Charlie’s guitar lessons) are good for braiding because they lend themselves into inherently tension-filled scenes. Your autistic brother. Your struggle to stay on the basketball team to please your father. Your daily continual failure to ask the woman you love to go out with you. These are dramatic. These are good threads for your braids. Food allergies. The death of your best friend. Your learning disability. Your World of Warcraft obsession. The things on your list might not be important in the grand scheme of things, but they must matter a great deal to you.
  2. Discuss your twenty ideas with a writing partner or your instructor. They can tell you whats most interesting to them. Choose two topics.
  3. Make a list for each topic — you choose of all the dramatic images that make up this story line. For example, in the “Failed to Ask Emily out Ever” story, the key images are: the day you first saw her in Health Dynamics. The day you fell down the stairs and she was standing at the bottom and she didn’t laugh. The week you spent preparing to ask her out and each day, you walked right past her and pretended you didn’t know her. Yesterday, when you sat next to her in class and said, “Dude, hey.” Using your mind’s eye, cast over this story from day one, when it all started, which maybe some years back. Do this for both your story lines. If you hate your images, or you want to change your mind, go back to your list of ideas and choose a different strand to work with.
  4. For your third braid you can use text someone else has written (citing your source, of course). You can use family letters or someone’s journal (as long as you have permission). One student wrote about the tragic death of her roommate (A), her own depression (B), and for her C Braid, she interspersed quotes from the brochures at the health center, which were inadvertently hilarious and added levity but also some political commentary: Not one brochure was even remotely helpful. Another student, Christian Piers, used his great great great uncle’s journals, which told of the family’s coming to America on a boat called The Albatross, upon which the uncle fell in love and got married on the long journey. He braided short, lively excerpts from the journals with his two personal stories, his (consistently disastrous) dating quests and his experience with a historical tug-of-war. When Christian showed the class his pieces, which he didn’t think went together at all, he was shocked at what they noticed. First of all, he was an awful lot like his uncle. Second of all, the river over which the epic tug-of-war took place? Same river the Albatross had come up 150 years earlier! Christian had not made the connection. And that was just on page 1. Braids create depth.
  5. Brainstorm ideas for your C braid, drawing from science texts, found texts, magazines from the 1940s, vintage etiquette books for girls or boys, travel guides, brochures from your campus health office. If you are writing about a video game obsession, maybe the online cheat codes and attendant commentary could be your C braid. If you are writing about your shopping compulsion, maybe the guidelines from Consumer Credit Counseling could create an ironic counterpart. If you are writing about your autistic brother and your own struggles to bring creativity into your life, maybe your C braid could draw from the recent neuroscience exploring how creativity  and the autistic brain work. Bring a list of ten ideas to your class and have others help you choose the most interesting one.”

— Heather Sellers, The Practice of Creative Writing 

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