Thursday, March 05, 2009

What was my point?

Those of you who follow my blog in anticipation of my incredibly instructive posts regarding my Master Hand Knitting Level II progress may be doubting that I am actually making progress, given that Wednesday MHK posts have, er, not been posted. Or rather, what's been posted is either lame or late or, more frequently, lame and late.

This post is late, but, I hope, not as lame.

I will have you know that yesterday I wrote three -- THREE -- book reviews and made progress on the fourth, and I must thank lipizzanknitter on Ravelry for the great check list of what to include in a book review to ensure completeness. Her check list gave me the structure I desperately needed to avoid being too terse or (more likely) rambling on and on.

There are two things I struggle with when I write: finding my point, and giving my point structure. I have no trouble spewing words, but presenting those words in a format that makes sense to someone else takes time.

I need to have a basic structure, or form, for whatever I'm writing, and the structure varies, depending on if I'm writing a business letter, instructions for the Make 1 increase, or a scene in a novel. I didn't have the form I needed for the book reviews, and that kept me from feeling good about checking them off my MHK II list as complete.

Form is not formula. For example, if you're building a house, in order for the house to be a house and not an industrial complex or a truck or a swimming pool, the house has a certain form. Every house has a foundation, walls, floors, ceilings and a roof. Most have windows, electrical wiring and plumbing. And to differentiate it from a commercial building, it has bedrooms, a kitchen, and at least one bathroom. So if you were going to build a house, you would include those things, and there is an order in which those things are done. For example, you start with laying the foundation, and you do the wiring before you put up sheetrock, which can't be done until the studs are up. It's the other stuff you put into the house that makes it unique, or makes it something you can live in. How many bathrooms does it have? How many bedrooms? What is the floor plan? Are there multiple storeys? A basement? Is the kitchen a galley style, or is the main floor an open floor plan? Having the same form -- a foundation, walls, electricity and a roof -- makes it a house, but it does not make it the same as every other house.

In contrast, formula is what a suburban housing developer uses to build houses: a couple of floor plans and four colors of taupe exterior paint. It's the same house over and over again.

And so it is with writing. Each fiction genre has a form, but not a formula. The reader has expectations about what will be included in the book, while at the same time demanding something new and different. While it's true that there are suburban housing developers within any genre (i.e. formulaic writers), some readers who dismiss entire genres as predictable (i.e. formulaic) miss the point of those genres. It's like dismissing a house for its form: having a kitchen and a bathroom, just like every other house. There is an expectation of a kitchen and bathroom in a house. What makes the house different or special when you walk through it is discovering how the kitchen and bathroom are placed in the house and how useful or beautiful they are.

In fiction, early in a book, the writer lays out a story question. The climax at the end answers the story question. For example, the story question of a romance isn't, "Will the hero and heroine end up together?" (Will the house have a bathroom?) Readers of romance aren't stupid. They *know* the hero and heroine will end up together -- that's why they're reading a romance. That's what a romance is - a courtship story. The story question of a romance is, "How will the hero and heroine overcome their conflicts so that they can end up together?" It's seeing that process play out -- watching the courtship -- that entertains them. Think about it. Does anyone sit down with a mystery and say, "Oh my god, this is so predictable. I totally know the protagonist is going to figure out whodunnit." I sure hope so. That's why it's a mystery.

So, back to knitting book reviews and finding my point. The one I'm always searching for. For the MHK reviews, I wasn't happy with what I had written. The writing wasn't bad, but I didn't have that elusive structure (form) on which to hang my review. I had found my point for each book I had chosen, but I hadn't found a good way to present that information. I didn't have the form.

With lipizannknitter's help, I found it.

So, for anyone curious about the written work for Level II, one requirement is to write four book reviews of at least one paragraph. I'm not clear on how to write a one-paragraph review (that sounds more like a summary to me), so mine are each about a page long, single spaced.

I chose the following books to review:
The Knitter's Book of Finishing Techniques, by Nancie M. Wiseman
A Treasury of Knitting Patterns, Barbara G. Walker
Vogue Knitting The Ultimate Knitting Book, by the editors of Vogue Knitting Magazine
Knitting Without Tears, by Elizabeth Zimmermann (this is the one I'm still working on)

There are several types of books I could have chosen -- like those that are devoted to specialized topics such as Aran sweaters or Fair Isle Tams, or which are full of patterns of a certain type (socks, for example, or baby sweaters). I felt like this was a good mix of general reference, knitting techniques, a stitch dictionary, and knitting philosophy.

Oh, I also have this half-finished Fair Isle mitten.

Still not happy with my edge tension,which is why I stopped.

I'm knitting it inside out to keep my overall tension correct. This works on the straightaways, but not so much around the corners. When I knit right side out, I end up with corners pulled too tightly, as the yarn cuts across the corners. I tried to keep the yarn firm around the corners this time, but I realized I didn't pull tightly enough. I'm thinking of ripping back these few rows and trying them again. Basically, I think it's nearly impossible (for me, anyway) to maintain even tension from one needle to another in Fair Isle. I much prefer being able to work on larger circumference items when I do stranded knitting. This is just aggravating. I will figure it out. I will.


twistedinstitches said...

Hey Rox!

I'm working on book reviews this week-end as well and I found this post very timely indeed!

I am choosing to ignore the 1 paragraph rule and just focusing on making my points one by one. If I offer a 1 page review on each--big deal? I wonder if the 1 paragraph was given as a rough idea for those that right PAGES and pages easily, and for those that think 4 sentences is "good enough"...

I liked lippizanknitters outline as well and have it in my binder notes too!


Happy writing!


twistedinstitches said...


My "W" key sticks and I really do know how to WRITE right.

Spellcheck is my friend SOMETIMES...


Deborah (aka Mt. Mom) said...

Just a reminder: 2 of the reviews are to be of "technical" books. Not being entirely sure of what they had in mind with this designation, I checked the printed bibliography at the back of my instructions for titles labeled "T". Both the Wiseman and Zimmermann titles should count.