No Loose Threads

Cartoon Stock, Tony Zuvela, tzun1197

Bread crumbs. Loose threads. = Food? Clothing?

Food, water, shelter, clothing, “love”: the necessities of life.

These necessities keep our story characters alive, too.

Not only must we weave threads of stories and substories throughout our works (generally, only one story per short story though), but we must clothe our characters as well with those threads of story and substory. (I’ll cover more about clothing characters in my next post: “An Opinion for EVERY Character”.)

Threads are important. (But not in the way of what “threads” meant back in my Hippy days when clothes were called “threads”: “Nice threads, man,” usually spoken with a cool marijuana-seeped voice, buddy to buddy.) Don’t go overboard with what characters are wearing unless it matters to the story or serves as a deeper description of Protagonist/Antagonist.

“Her breasts sipped her soup when she leaned forward in that low-cut dress and gave him an appetite for more than his lunch.”

Clothing, feeding and sheltering our characters need not necessarily be covered in great detail, but showing that main characters wear clothing (or don’t), eat and live somewhere — be it in a mansion, an apartment, or on the street, in a city or a town — adds dimension to both character and story. Aim for ensuring that these details add to plot and/or atmosphere simultaneously.

I’m speaking of the threads that weave the tapestry of the whole story: the main characters’ stories, substories and backstories; supporting characters’ idiosyncrasies, stories, substories and backstories IF required; and set-up, setting, atmosphere, backdrop, clues, romantic connections, conflicts, substory or backstory for these conflicts …

Any time we start a thread in our story, we must tie it up before the end. Never leave a reader hanging no matter how slight the mention might be. This doesn’t mean that every single character needs a thread, it means that every character we give a story to, must be followed up.


As Freddy sneaked through the park’s thick trees, he passed behind a young man and woman on a bench. He overheard the woman.

“I’ll never leave you, Johnny. No matter what Daddy says.”

If Freddy had passed by this young couple and had noted arms around each other, eyes locked with love, warmth exuding from their closeness, etc., they would have been mere backdrop, scene description, perhaps mood enhancement.

By having the young woman tell Johnny her thoughts and thus expose a conflict in their lives to Freddy, the reader is alerted to their dilemma. The reader will wonder: Oh. A divergence from Freddy’s plight. How interesting. I wonder what’s going to happen to these lovely young people. Are they part of the story?

We don’t want this to happen.

Or do we?

Perhaps further along in Freddy’s story he could hear a ruckus behind him and have him hear Daddy’s voice either chastising or praising. End of brief story. But why put that in anyway if it has nothing to do with Freddy? A brief story like this is merely a bit of fluff on a sweater to be plucked off at editing time.


If Freddy is sneaking through the trees in the park to escape his own lover’s father, this adds to Freddy’s story so is fine to include as it’s always good to have comparisons going on.

Substory threads that tie together in a single connected conclusion at the end of a novel or movie delight me to no end. This technique always draws a gasp of awe from me no matter the genre.

In order to weave a tapestry, the weaver must first tie some knots. Working backwards from the end of a story and pulling threads along that connect to each bread crumb we have dropped earlier, makes for a tapestry with no holes in it. One we can proudly display on our wall and brag: “See how it all comes together in one big beautiful picture?”


Next post — An Opinion for EVERY Character

Sherrill Wark is the author of Really Stupid Writing Mistakes: How to Avoid Them:

… and Death in l’Acadie: a Kesk8a story (fiction):


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