One of the greatest lessons ever I learned about writing came from an English teacher, Mr. D. I was his student teacher when I was about 21. He adored literature and writing as much as I did, and one day, as he read his own short story to the class, I was mesmerized. He reminded me how much I loved the written word - and creating thoughts on paper. Being an insanely-busy student teacher, with my eye on graduation, I had absolutely no time for writing. Or, so I told myself.
But shortly after Mr. D read his short story aloud, I realized how much I'd missed it. Writing. So, I waited until graduation and spent that whole next summer penning my very first novel.
So, back to the greatest lesson -- one day, Mr. D taught his students about the concept of weaving depth into a story. He used the example of stringing beads on a necklace. "You take the necklace," he said, using his hands to demonstrate, "and you add, say, five white beads. Then -- you add one red bead. Then maybe seven more white beads. Then - one red bead..." And so on. The point was, place a red bead - a "something" - a distinctive object, a color, a phrase that the reader will recognize throughout the story. Having that red bead creates depth and layers and familiarity. And consistency.
One of the best "bead" examples I've ever seen is from a David Duchovny film called The House of D (which Mr. Duchovny wrote and directed). The first scene involves the main character, stretched out underneath his bed, sketching in his notebook. Interesting. Quirky.
But then, as the story flashes back to his days as a boy, we see why he's underneath that bed, even as an adult. Growing up, he had a single mother who was emotionally unstable. He worried about her. So, the 13-year-old him would sneak underneath her bed each night, to hear her breathing, to make sure she was okay. He was protecting her. He did this a couple more times during the film, and at the end - in a poignant, fateful twist - he did it one more time. That image of him, underneath her bed, became a consistent "bead." A bright red one that sticks with the viewer. It's something we can point to and nod, and say, "Yes. I've seen that. I get it. There he goes again, under the bed." It's familiar, comforting.
Sure, in its purest form, we could call it a symbol, and that's exactly what it is. But I much prefer calling it a "bead." And from the moment the concept of beads was first introduced to me, I've been attempting to string them inside my writing ever since. Thank you, Mr. D!