On Crafting A Story, Stone by Stone

WritingCara/Andrea here, I live in New England, and in my daily walks, I pass a lot of old stone walls. They are a common sight here as the hardscrabble soil is rocky, and over the centuries farmers simply used the shards kicked up by their ploughs to fence in their fields. We have hard weather here, with wind, snow and rain constantly shaping the contours of the walls, giving each a unique character. I love looking at the details, as what always strikes me is how beautifully enduring they are, and how well they have held up to the vagaries of the moment.
Stone wall

So recently, as I was starting a new story idea and thinking of the basic elements while I walked, it struck me how my local stone walls are a perfect metaphor for what makes a good book. Now, you may be thinking, “Hmmm, has she lost her marbles?” Allow me to explain . . .



Stone 2From a distance, you see a stretch of wall, and at first glance it seems a rather simple, solid structure, with its shapes and colors blending together to make simple a Stone 3simple solid structure—like a book before you open it. Then as you get closer, you notice all the distinct facets and nuances of color. The textures come into focus—rough, smooth, pebbly . . . an infinite range of subtle differences. Cracks and crevasses add an aura of mystery, making the wall even more intriguing.

HeroTo me, that stone wall is a wonderful visual metaphor for what makes a good story. The basic plot and the main characters—especially our hero and heroine—are the large stones that make up the foundation of the wall. They give the wall—or the story—its essential shape, depth and direction. Does the wall run straight as an arrow or twist like a ribbon through the surrounding trees? Are the stones tightly stacked or crumbing to the verge of chaos?  

HeroineThe smaller stones are the secondary characters, who are integral to keeping the wall held together as a solid structure. They add the “mortar” which can help cement in backstory and tie people, the plotline and motivations together. And sometimes those small pieces are so intriguing on their own that they end up being a big part of the whole picture.

LondonThen lean in even closer and the colors and textures become more vivid. In a story, there are a number of ways we authors add those details. The way we describe the actual physical appearance of our characters helps bring them to life. The there are the other elements—the clothes they wear, the houses in which they live, the settings they move through, be it country or city.

Lady-fashion HouseSome stone walls have a quiet, peaceful air about them, while others bristle with drama. Hard and soft—that may seem impossible given they are all made of rocks, but to me there is a distinct difference. In a story, it’s language—both how they speak and how we narrate—and pacing that create these qualities.

Lastly, a good stonewall withstanding the test of time. Some of the longtime locals around here grumble about the new construction of stone walls and how the builders try to mimic the look, but take shortcuts. They slap down a big base of cement and sort of stick the Hatsstones on the outside, and then fill in the cracks with more cement. It’s quicker, but blander. And after several long new England winters, the cycle of freezing and thawing often makes the new slapdash walls fall apart. In other words, you have to do it right or it won’t last. It’s the same with a story—the good ones can weather fleeting trends and passing fads. Good writing is good writing.

LibrarySo, that’s my random musings for the day. How about you—do you find stone walls as interesting as I do? And in a story, what is the most important element that makes or breaks it for you? Character, plot, ambiance? Please share your thoughts!

75 thoughts on “On Crafting A Story, Stone by Stone”

  1. I am character driven. I see the characters first, then figure out their story– after all, it is the hero/ heroine that I care about when I read. There may well be a strong theme of family, revenge, or redemption, but it is the individual that I root for. I like your analogy of the wall.

    Reply
  2. I am character driven. I see the characters first, then figure out their story– after all, it is the hero/ heroine that I care about when I read. There may well be a strong theme of family, revenge, or redemption, but it is the individual that I root for. I like your analogy of the wall.

    Reply
  3. I am character driven. I see the characters first, then figure out their story– after all, it is the hero/ heroine that I care about when I read. There may well be a strong theme of family, revenge, or redemption, but it is the individual that I root for. I like your analogy of the wall.

    Reply
  4. I am character driven. I see the characters first, then figure out their story– after all, it is the hero/ heroine that I care about when I read. There may well be a strong theme of family, revenge, or redemption, but it is the individual that I root for. I like your analogy of the wall.

    Reply
  5. I am character driven. I see the characters first, then figure out their story– after all, it is the hero/ heroine that I care about when I read. There may well be a strong theme of family, revenge, or redemption, but it is the individual that I root for. I like your analogy of the wall.

    Reply
  6. I love historical romance – it is my favorite genre. I read a lot of these stories and though I enjoy them all while I’m reading them, they are not all memorable. The ones that stay with me have well drawn characters that I can care about.
    I don’t care that much about adventure (pirates, spies, highwaymen, etc.) or sex/erotica (can take it or leave it as long as it’s not overdone).
    But I am a sucker for a good love story with well defined characters. They are the ones that I save to re-read on dreary winter days.

    Reply
  7. I love historical romance – it is my favorite genre. I read a lot of these stories and though I enjoy them all while I’m reading them, they are not all memorable. The ones that stay with me have well drawn characters that I can care about.
    I don’t care that much about adventure (pirates, spies, highwaymen, etc.) or sex/erotica (can take it or leave it as long as it’s not overdone).
    But I am a sucker for a good love story with well defined characters. They are the ones that I save to re-read on dreary winter days.

    Reply
  8. I love historical romance – it is my favorite genre. I read a lot of these stories and though I enjoy them all while I’m reading them, they are not all memorable. The ones that stay with me have well drawn characters that I can care about.
    I don’t care that much about adventure (pirates, spies, highwaymen, etc.) or sex/erotica (can take it or leave it as long as it’s not overdone).
    But I am a sucker for a good love story with well defined characters. They are the ones that I save to re-read on dreary winter days.

    Reply
  9. I love historical romance – it is my favorite genre. I read a lot of these stories and though I enjoy them all while I’m reading them, they are not all memorable. The ones that stay with me have well drawn characters that I can care about.
    I don’t care that much about adventure (pirates, spies, highwaymen, etc.) or sex/erotica (can take it or leave it as long as it’s not overdone).
    But I am a sucker for a good love story with well defined characters. They are the ones that I save to re-read on dreary winter days.

    Reply
  10. I love historical romance – it is my favorite genre. I read a lot of these stories and though I enjoy them all while I’m reading them, they are not all memorable. The ones that stay with me have well drawn characters that I can care about.
    I don’t care that much about adventure (pirates, spies, highwaymen, etc.) or sex/erotica (can take it or leave it as long as it’s not overdone).
    But I am a sucker for a good love story with well defined characters. They are the ones that I save to re-read on dreary winter days.

    Reply
  11. Cara/Andrea,
    I love your stone wall as a metaphor for building a story. I have a related one, though it’s more about the process–I think of building my stories like a brick wall, where each course must be solid and make sense before I can lay in the next course of bricks/story. Sadly, I don’t live in New England with all those lovely stone walls to contemplate!

    Reply
  12. Cara/Andrea,
    I love your stone wall as a metaphor for building a story. I have a related one, though it’s more about the process–I think of building my stories like a brick wall, where each course must be solid and make sense before I can lay in the next course of bricks/story. Sadly, I don’t live in New England with all those lovely stone walls to contemplate!

    Reply
  13. Cara/Andrea,
    I love your stone wall as a metaphor for building a story. I have a related one, though it’s more about the process–I think of building my stories like a brick wall, where each course must be solid and make sense before I can lay in the next course of bricks/story. Sadly, I don’t live in New England with all those lovely stone walls to contemplate!

    Reply
  14. Cara/Andrea,
    I love your stone wall as a metaphor for building a story. I have a related one, though it’s more about the process–I think of building my stories like a brick wall, where each course must be solid and make sense before I can lay in the next course of bricks/story. Sadly, I don’t live in New England with all those lovely stone walls to contemplate!

    Reply
  15. Cara/Andrea,
    I love your stone wall as a metaphor for building a story. I have a related one, though it’s more about the process–I think of building my stories like a brick wall, where each course must be solid and make sense before I can lay in the next course of bricks/story. Sadly, I don’t live in New England with all those lovely stone walls to contemplate!

    Reply
  16. Thank you, Leslie! As a reader, I’m character driven too. If I don’t get invested very quickly in the heroine/hero I’m not going find the book holds my interest. I love period detail, descriptions and elegant writing. But none of those things makes up for weak characters.

    Reply
  17. Thank you, Leslie! As a reader, I’m character driven too. If I don’t get invested very quickly in the heroine/hero I’m not going find the book holds my interest. I love period detail, descriptions and elegant writing. But none of those things makes up for weak characters.

    Reply
  18. Thank you, Leslie! As a reader, I’m character driven too. If I don’t get invested very quickly in the heroine/hero I’m not going find the book holds my interest. I love period detail, descriptions and elegant writing. But none of those things makes up for weak characters.

    Reply
  19. Thank you, Leslie! As a reader, I’m character driven too. If I don’t get invested very quickly in the heroine/hero I’m not going find the book holds my interest. I love period detail, descriptions and elegant writing. But none of those things makes up for weak characters.

    Reply
  20. Thank you, Leslie! As a reader, I’m character driven too. If I don’t get invested very quickly in the heroine/hero I’m not going find the book holds my interest. I love period detail, descriptions and elegant writing. But none of those things makes up for weak characters.

    Reply
  21. Like the others above, I like your comparison to the New England walls. Here in mid-Missouri I see only fences (which are boring).
    I am a plot-driven reader — on the first read. In fact my need to understand the plot will drive me past the good writing. But the stories I re-read, the stories I visit again and again have good characters. They become my friends. And I revisit them often. All the remaining points of good writing enhance these visits. Without all of them, revisits are rare or non-existant.

    Reply
  22. Like the others above, I like your comparison to the New England walls. Here in mid-Missouri I see only fences (which are boring).
    I am a plot-driven reader — on the first read. In fact my need to understand the plot will drive me past the good writing. But the stories I re-read, the stories I visit again and again have good characters. They become my friends. And I revisit them often. All the remaining points of good writing enhance these visits. Without all of them, revisits are rare or non-existant.

    Reply
  23. Like the others above, I like your comparison to the New England walls. Here in mid-Missouri I see only fences (which are boring).
    I am a plot-driven reader — on the first read. In fact my need to understand the plot will drive me past the good writing. But the stories I re-read, the stories I visit again and again have good characters. They become my friends. And I revisit them often. All the remaining points of good writing enhance these visits. Without all of them, revisits are rare or non-existant.

    Reply
  24. Like the others above, I like your comparison to the New England walls. Here in mid-Missouri I see only fences (which are boring).
    I am a plot-driven reader — on the first read. In fact my need to understand the plot will drive me past the good writing. But the stories I re-read, the stories I visit again and again have good characters. They become my friends. And I revisit them often. All the remaining points of good writing enhance these visits. Without all of them, revisits are rare or non-existant.

    Reply
  25. Like the others above, I like your comparison to the New England walls. Here in mid-Missouri I see only fences (which are boring).
    I am a plot-driven reader — on the first read. In fact my need to understand the plot will drive me past the good writing. But the stories I re-read, the stories I visit again and again have good characters. They become my friends. And I revisit them often. All the remaining points of good writing enhance these visits. Without all of them, revisits are rare or non-existant.

    Reply
  26. Thanks, Mary Jo. A classic New England stone wall truly is a thing of unique and complex beauty. Your metaphor is a great one too. One absolutely does have to build a solid base, and then lay each successive layer in perfect alignment to end up with a good brick wall.

    Reply
  27. Thanks, Mary Jo. A classic New England stone wall truly is a thing of unique and complex beauty. Your metaphor is a great one too. One absolutely does have to build a solid base, and then lay each successive layer in perfect alignment to end up with a good brick wall.

    Reply
  28. Thanks, Mary Jo. A classic New England stone wall truly is a thing of unique and complex beauty. Your metaphor is a great one too. One absolutely does have to build a solid base, and then lay each successive layer in perfect alignment to end up with a good brick wall.

    Reply
  29. Thanks, Mary Jo. A classic New England stone wall truly is a thing of unique and complex beauty. Your metaphor is a great one too. One absolutely does have to build a solid base, and then lay each successive layer in perfect alignment to end up with a good brick wall.

    Reply
  30. Thanks, Mary Jo. A classic New England stone wall truly is a thing of unique and complex beauty. Your metaphor is a great one too. One absolutely does have to build a solid base, and then lay each successive layer in perfect alignment to end up with a good brick wall.

    Reply
  31. No wonder I’m drawn to stone walls! Your analogy is beautifully applied….and I’d say the say thing about “real life” as well. I just came across this wonderful quote: “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only once.” -George R. R. Martin

    Reply
  32. No wonder I’m drawn to stone walls! Your analogy is beautifully applied….and I’d say the say thing about “real life” as well. I just came across this wonderful quote: “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only once.” -George R. R. Martin

    Reply
  33. No wonder I’m drawn to stone walls! Your analogy is beautifully applied….and I’d say the say thing about “real life” as well. I just came across this wonderful quote: “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only once.” -George R. R. Martin

    Reply
  34. No wonder I’m drawn to stone walls! Your analogy is beautifully applied….and I’d say the say thing about “real life” as well. I just came across this wonderful quote: “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only once.” -George R. R. Martin

    Reply
  35. No wonder I’m drawn to stone walls! Your analogy is beautifully applied….and I’d say the say thing about “real life” as well. I just came across this wonderful quote: “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only once.” -George R. R. Martin

    Reply
  36. Sue, fences can be interesting too, especially if they get nice and weathered.
    You “build” a lovely explanation on what makes a book compelling, and a keeper. It’s interesting on how we all differ from the first element that draws us in, but that ultimately we need to love the characters and be swept up in the story—ie. the plot.
    Taking about the craft of writing is endlessly interesting!

    Reply
  37. Sue, fences can be interesting too, especially if they get nice and weathered.
    You “build” a lovely explanation on what makes a book compelling, and a keeper. It’s interesting on how we all differ from the first element that draws us in, but that ultimately we need to love the characters and be swept up in the story—ie. the plot.
    Taking about the craft of writing is endlessly interesting!

    Reply
  38. Sue, fences can be interesting too, especially if they get nice and weathered.
    You “build” a lovely explanation on what makes a book compelling, and a keeper. It’s interesting on how we all differ from the first element that draws us in, but that ultimately we need to love the characters and be swept up in the story—ie. the plot.
    Taking about the craft of writing is endlessly interesting!

    Reply
  39. Sue, fences can be interesting too, especially if they get nice and weathered.
    You “build” a lovely explanation on what makes a book compelling, and a keeper. It’s interesting on how we all differ from the first element that draws us in, but that ultimately we need to love the characters and be swept up in the story—ie. the plot.
    Taking about the craft of writing is endlessly interesting!

    Reply
  40. Sue, fences can be interesting too, especially if they get nice and weathered.
    You “build” a lovely explanation on what makes a book compelling, and a keeper. It’s interesting on how we all differ from the first element that draws us in, but that ultimately we need to love the characters and be swept up in the story—ie. the plot.
    Taking about the craft of writing is endlessly interesting!

    Reply
  41. Thank you for the lovely read to start my day!(And for sharing the inspiring pictures.) Stone walls are beautiful. As a reader, I have to like the characters (or at least one), or I won’t continue reading.

    Reply
  42. Thank you for the lovely read to start my day!(And for sharing the inspiring pictures.) Stone walls are beautiful. As a reader, I have to like the characters (or at least one), or I won’t continue reading.

    Reply
  43. Thank you for the lovely read to start my day!(And for sharing the inspiring pictures.) Stone walls are beautiful. As a reader, I have to like the characters (or at least one), or I won’t continue reading.

    Reply
  44. Thank you for the lovely read to start my day!(And for sharing the inspiring pictures.) Stone walls are beautiful. As a reader, I have to like the characters (or at least one), or I won’t continue reading.

    Reply
  45. Thank you for the lovely read to start my day!(And for sharing the inspiring pictures.) Stone walls are beautiful. As a reader, I have to like the characters (or at least one), or I won’t continue reading.

    Reply
  46. Lovely blog Cara/Andrea — I love stone walls too — there is something timeless and ageless about them, and the building of dry stone walls that last for generations is a skill and an art.
    For me, characters matter most of all — as a reader and a writer. Sometimes when my own stories veer away from what I originally thought they’d be, I worry, but I tell myself that as long as I stay true to the characters it will all work out — and it usually does.

    Reply
  47. Lovely blog Cara/Andrea — I love stone walls too — there is something timeless and ageless about them, and the building of dry stone walls that last for generations is a skill and an art.
    For me, characters matter most of all — as a reader and a writer. Sometimes when my own stories veer away from what I originally thought they’d be, I worry, but I tell myself that as long as I stay true to the characters it will all work out — and it usually does.

    Reply
  48. Lovely blog Cara/Andrea — I love stone walls too — there is something timeless and ageless about them, and the building of dry stone walls that last for generations is a skill and an art.
    For me, characters matter most of all — as a reader and a writer. Sometimes when my own stories veer away from what I originally thought they’d be, I worry, but I tell myself that as long as I stay true to the characters it will all work out — and it usually does.

    Reply
  49. Lovely blog Cara/Andrea — I love stone walls too — there is something timeless and ageless about them, and the building of dry stone walls that last for generations is a skill and an art.
    For me, characters matter most of all — as a reader and a writer. Sometimes when my own stories veer away from what I originally thought they’d be, I worry, but I tell myself that as long as I stay true to the characters it will all work out — and it usually does.

    Reply
  50. Lovely blog Cara/Andrea — I love stone walls too — there is something timeless and ageless about them, and the building of dry stone walls that last for generations is a skill and an art.
    For me, characters matter most of all — as a reader and a writer. Sometimes when my own stories veer away from what I originally thought they’d be, I worry, but I tell myself that as long as I stay true to the characters it will all work out — and it usually does.

    Reply
  51. So glad you enjoyed the post, Reina. I find myself constantly struck by the beauty and individuality of the old stone walls in my area. They make me stop and think about craft, and how the seemingly simple structure needs for so many little things to be done right.

    Reply
  52. So glad you enjoyed the post, Reina. I find myself constantly struck by the beauty and individuality of the old stone walls in my area. They make me stop and think about craft, and how the seemingly simple structure needs for so many little things to be done right.

    Reply
  53. So glad you enjoyed the post, Reina. I find myself constantly struck by the beauty and individuality of the old stone walls in my area. They make me stop and think about craft, and how the seemingly simple structure needs for so many little things to be done right.

    Reply
  54. So glad you enjoyed the post, Reina. I find myself constantly struck by the beauty and individuality of the old stone walls in my area. They make me stop and think about craft, and how the seemingly simple structure needs for so many little things to be done right.

    Reply
  55. So glad you enjoyed the post, Reina. I find myself constantly struck by the beauty and individuality of the old stone walls in my area. They make me stop and think about craft, and how the seemingly simple structure needs for so many little things to be done right.

    Reply
  56. Anne, the timelessness and ageless beauty really resonates with me too. As I said in the above comment, I love how walls are seemingly simple, but actually require a surprising degree of craft—the builder really uses exquisite care in placing the stones just so in order to make something that will last. It really makes me think of writing a book and all the elements we need to do “right” to make it stand as a solid story.
    I totally agree that characters are the heart of a good story, both as a reader and a writer.

    Reply
  57. Anne, the timelessness and ageless beauty really resonates with me too. As I said in the above comment, I love how walls are seemingly simple, but actually require a surprising degree of craft—the builder really uses exquisite care in placing the stones just so in order to make something that will last. It really makes me think of writing a book and all the elements we need to do “right” to make it stand as a solid story.
    I totally agree that characters are the heart of a good story, both as a reader and a writer.

    Reply
  58. Anne, the timelessness and ageless beauty really resonates with me too. As I said in the above comment, I love how walls are seemingly simple, but actually require a surprising degree of craft—the builder really uses exquisite care in placing the stones just so in order to make something that will last. It really makes me think of writing a book and all the elements we need to do “right” to make it stand as a solid story.
    I totally agree that characters are the heart of a good story, both as a reader and a writer.

    Reply
  59. Anne, the timelessness and ageless beauty really resonates with me too. As I said in the above comment, I love how walls are seemingly simple, but actually require a surprising degree of craft—the builder really uses exquisite care in placing the stones just so in order to make something that will last. It really makes me think of writing a book and all the elements we need to do “right” to make it stand as a solid story.
    I totally agree that characters are the heart of a good story, both as a reader and a writer.

    Reply
  60. Anne, the timelessness and ageless beauty really resonates with me too. As I said in the above comment, I love how walls are seemingly simple, but actually require a surprising degree of craft—the builder really uses exquisite care in placing the stones just so in order to make something that will last. It really makes me think of writing a book and all the elements we need to do “right” to make it stand as a solid story.
    I totally agree that characters are the heart of a good story, both as a reader and a writer.

    Reply
  61. I see both places and characters as I read them they seem to come to life. Thanks for the pics they were really cool to see.

    Reply
  62. I see both places and characters as I read them they seem to come to life. Thanks for the pics they were really cool to see.

    Reply
  63. I see both places and characters as I read them they seem to come to life. Thanks for the pics they were really cool to see.

    Reply
  64. I see both places and characters as I read them they seem to come to life. Thanks for the pics they were really cool to see.

    Reply
  65. I see both places and characters as I read them they seem to come to life. Thanks for the pics they were really cool to see.

    Reply

Leave a Comment