Friday, September 12, 2008

Crazy Nines

In quilting, there's a kind of anti-pattern called Crazy Nines (if you read the quilting trades, it was featured in this Summer's issue of Fabric Trends.) Basically what you do is stack and rotary cut 12" squares of different fabrics into nine asymmetrical pieces, swap the pieces around, and sew them back together. The end result is sort of a lazy person's not-very-interesting crazy quilt.

All right, I'm being a bit of a sewing snob. It's not a bad piece for a beginner or a kid to make, because there are no templates involved, all the seams are straight and you end up with nine squares you sew back together. If you use the right fabrics, you can make a reasonably pretty quilt.

The problem I have with anti-patterns like Crazy Nines is that there's no real workmanship involved. Shortcut stuff like this encourages laziness and lack of imagination. The real art and skill involved in quilting gets shuffled to the sidelines. To me that's only a couple of seams away from using cheater cloth.

In writing there are all sorts of ways to take shortcuts with characterizations, too. Take some very popular characters created by other writers, stack them, cut them up and put them back together at random, and you may think you have a fully-realized character of your own. But what you really end up with is a hodge-podge of someone else's ideas.

You can only hide so much of that behind the excuse of a genre trend. The lack of workmanship always comes out in the story, too; anything that isn't your idea is probably going to pale in comparison to the original because it was never yours to begin with.

Rather than throwing together characters made out of bits and pieces of other authors' work, consider what you gain when you create your own characters according to your individual vision. Yes, it's a lot tougher to create versus imitate; at first you're probably going to mess up and have to redo a lot of work. But I think that's an important part of the process of becoming the writer you were meant to be instead of a clone of every other writer in the herd.

As a writer you bring a lot to the character worktable that has never been there before you got into this gig. Think of all the people you know, have met, have watched, have studied or have simply dreamed up over the years. Think of all the character ideas they've inspired for you. I can practically guarantee you that I don't know any of them the way you do, and I will never write any of them the way you can. They're yours, an entire secret world of them. They're worth investing your time and effort to bring them to the page, because no one else can -- and if they try, they'll only pale in comparison to you.

Related links:

Writing outside the paranormal box – creating unique characters by Jennifer Estep

Creating Unforgettable Characters by by Vicki Hinze

Creating Well-Rounded Characters by Lori L. Lake

Creating Memorable Characters by Lee Masterson

The Mystery of Character by Robert Wilson


  1. Anonymous8:42 PM

    I've made quilts similar to the Crazy Nine before, like these crooked stars. Even though they're not precision piecing, they can make cute gifts when I'm pressed for time. Quick and easy does have its place, just like it's not a crime to grab the occasional bag of take-out on the way home.

    However, that doesn't mean that shortcuts are suitable for submission as professional quality work or that burgers and fries are good nutrition. I'd no more enter a quilt like that in a competition than I'd send fan fic to my editor for publication. Many writers, and quilters, would disagree.

    But, ya know, some people think that a steady diet of McFood is perfectly okay, too.

  2. Anonymous9:25 PM

    I adore making log cabin quilts since it was the first quilt I'd ever learned how to make. I think it's an anti-pattern as well (based on the speed piecing way I'd been taught), but the different possible arrangements make it so interesting.

    Onto the writing comparison...character building is the cornerstone of a great book. I will read through a bad, poorly written plot if I love a character enough...

    If I don't love the characters, I'll drop the book/series (if it's the same characters through the series) and never look back.

    Seeing the same type of genre specific characterization is frustrating. This is especially true in genres I read for pleasure and would never attempt to write in.

    Thought provoking post. And thanks for the awesome links.

  3. LOL. That sounds like me when it comes to baking. While I understand the necessity of buying the pre-packaged mixes, especially for those who aren't interested in the process but just want cake, but personally, I enjoy making cakes and cookies and pies from scratch. Then again, baking is almost my sort of "zen" I guess as well. Horrible for my waistline, but very peaceful.


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