What does texture look like in writing? Syndicated from @CactusHeartP

The following is syndicated from sararauch.com and is posted with permission.

I’m always thinking about texture, in a semi-obsessive way. And how without it the whole world would be one dimensional. Or two dimensional. Or something—something boring and flat and not-very-tactile. And how, without texture, art is pretty awful. I googled “texture” and discovered that most uses of the term are related to art: music, visual art and painting, textiles, etc. Let’s add writing to that list, because I’m a writer, and I like texture. But what does texture look like in writing? It’s obviously a different beast than the texture of a painting or a musical composition (seen/felt and heard respectively), but how different?
Back when I wrote poems, there was a lot of color in my poetry. Color is important to my world, and I’m likely to notice the color of everything. (If you need proof, you can ask Sasha about how many disagreements we’ve had about what color something is—I’m pretty sure normal people don’t have these arguments.) And color can be part of texture, but texture is also something else, something more nuanced.
Now, if I can’t articulate what texture in writing looks like, how am I supposed to create it? I’m especially thinking of this because as I rework the novel, I’m discovering more and more layers: I’ll be reworking a scene and suddenly a past encounter rises out of nowhere. Or I’ll be cataloging a character’s mental instability and next thing I know I’m detailing the aging Victorian houses of Northampton. These things in and of themselves are texture: a sort-of papier-mâché of overlapping stories, memories, moments, places visited, people encountered, etc., until all those things create a three-dimensional character.
That we live in a world (our brains) where each thing/memory/emotion/what-have-you is connected to something else, however tenuously or directly, is something I think about all the time. Life is intricate, life is textured. How to portray that on the page without bogging a story down? The answer might be found in fabric (and that’s the answer to why I’ve been so obsessed with it lately).
Something else about me: I used to sew (the proper word for this is seamstress, but I don’t think I ever reached that skill level). In a pinch, I could still make you a dress, or a bag, a set of curtains, a duvet cover. When I first started sewing, I didn’t understand about the grain of the fabric: how to work with the nature of the fabric to make things flow. I feel this way now about my characters: that I must understand their grain in order to have them operate naturally on the page.
We are inundated with fabric choices. From the simplest cotton to the fanciest cashmere, from thin, supple nylon to indestructible polyester. We’ve got 300-thread count sheets and raw silk and tulle and satin, we’ve got heavy canvas work pants and dainty lace undergarments. Creating all these different fabrics is probably far more complicated than what I’m about to distill here (but then, so is writing a novel and creating characters), but here are a few ideas on how texture can be created/used within written works.
~Thread/yarn. Thread is actually a product of spinning another unrefined product (wool, cotton) into long, connected strings. Thread can be strong or delicate, rough or smooth, elastic or rigid. It’s what holds cloth together. And so, the thread of a character does the same. What holds a character or a story together? Like sewing, in writing you don’t want excess thread. You don’t want endless messy loops that just look bad and lead nowhere. Striking this balance—enough but not too much—is one of the most valuable lessons a writer can learn.
~Weave. I’m very drawn to lace. I’m also drawn to open-weave sweaters constructed from fancy yarns. I’ve noticed Sasha likes plain fabrics: cotton and denim and closed-weave sweaters. This simple observation says things about us: I’m prone to embellishment, I like complexity (despite the simple living thing). Sasha’s a little more straightforward than I am. Characters and plots are woven too (since “Let me spin you a yarn” is slang for telling stories, this doesn’t come as much of a surprise). Some plots are complex, some are simple. Some characters are as intricate as fine lace, others as plain as a white cotton t-shirt. Within the structure of a story, it helps if the “weaves” of your characters complement one another, even if the fit is dissonant. You can play with this just like you would a wardrobe: wool and silk? lace and corduroy? cotton on cotton? There are endless combinations.
~Patterns & color. This is one of my favorites. Each character is its own pattern, and that pattern is laid over the pattern of the plot (so make sure you’re not pairing polka dots with stripes unless you really mean it). I’m also a synesthete, so every character I create has a specific color that I associate with them. Like with weave, these colors & patterns have to interact with one another: some blend, some contrast, some match perfectly, some look downright awful together. When I study fabric, and when I study humans, I notice how true this is. Some work together and some don’t. Either way, whatever you’re trying to portray—keep pattern and color in mind.
~Feel. This is absolutely the most nebulous, but I couldn’t not include it. And it’s kind of an end product (though it certainly helps to have an idea of what you want it to be throughout the process). How something feels is unendingly important—in the clothes you wear, the life you live, and the art you create. Art (in my opinion, not everyone will agree) should always evoke a feeling, and as the creator of the art, you should know what that feeling is/will be. How? Training. A discerning eye. The trusted opinions of a few good friends. And more—it’s in your gut, so trust it.

Author Bio

Sara Rauch believes in simplicity, fresh air, and kale, and is a writer, feminist, and coffee-lover. Her writing has appeared in Earth’s DaughtersThe Black Boot,InkwellThe Prose-Poem ProjectThe Q Reviewtheneweryork, and in the anthology Dear John, I Love Jane. She is the founder and editor of Cactus Heart Press, has spent the better half of the last decade in publishing, and is currently working on her first novel. Visit her website www.sararauch.com for more information.