Ah ha! I just got it…”spinning yarns” has a double meaning: a literal definition in which a spinner spins yarns, on a spinning wheel, creating something substantial from something entirely different: producing a strong workable thread of wool or acrylic fibres. Actually something of a misnomer, as what the spinner actually spins are fibres, to produce yarn with which to make sweaters or blankets, etc.
“Spinning yarns” in the context of literary writing, means a writer takes a thought or idea, and turns it into a more or less complicated work of telling a story (or yarn.) To compare or contrast the two definitions are similar in that someone creates something useful and interesting of something that is nothing like the original. A dab of sheep’s wool, dirty and tangled, is spun into a fibre–and a writer’s insight becomes a story that comes of an idea. It can be said that something is made out of nothing: a fibre becomes a hank of yarn, which becomes a sweater; an idea becomes a series of thoughts, which becomes a coherent story.
Spinning a yarn is a metaphor for creating a story.
My current favorite author is Philippa Gregory. The single most important feature of her writing is that it is so well-written, and her prose so riveting, that it keeps me reading into the night and it is difficult for me to put the book down. As a Historian myself, I enjoy the combination of well-researched details of life in medieval times, and the convincing background information and believable characters, both fictional and biographical. Even when the plot twists are predictable, or factual history in nature, Gregory’s writing always rings true and fascinating.
The larger-than-life character of King Henry VIII, and his life and times (and wives and significant others) is always captivating. This is historical fiction at its best, and while dialogue and details of activities are not always necessarily verifiable in fact, there is enough biographical and historical information to be convincing.
Two other authors that I can always count on to satisfy the thirst for fiction are John Grisham and Lisa Scottoline. Both write what I call “lawyer fiction” and involve realistic incidents and convincing dialogue. The courtroom scenes are exciting, and the characters are always entertaining and believable. These writers are indeed “yarn spinners,” spinning/creating tales/yarns that always hold my attention, and are always my first choice of fiction to read at airport or doctors’ office waiting rooms. They never disappoint in holding interest, and guarantee moving plots that skip along without bogging down.
There is nothing like really “getting into” an excellent work of fiction, and experiencing a jolt of realization of return to consciousness in the reality in which the reader is sitting…outside of the book. This is the kind of writing that I love–yarns spun out of the ability to weave a spell.