Masterplots Theater: Y is for Yarn

Y is for YarnWelcome to my last Masterplots Theater post. As is so often the case with the last letters of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge (X, Y and Z are so hard), I need to take a few artistic liberties with this post. There are simply no great masterplots for the letter Y.

There are, however, Yarns.

Do you like to create your own story structure, something not grounded by strict traditional forms of three acts and rising action? Do you like to engage the reader in the process by using a narrator or breaking the fourth wall? If you do, the Yarn might be what you need to tell your next story to perfection.

Yarn Plot Notes:

A Yarn is a method of storytelling with loosely defined rules, but a style all its own. The Yarn frequently appears unstructured or under-structured; this is from the tendency to use non-linear or organic storytelling approaches.

Narration and narrators are usually the focal point of the Yarn. Creating a fame for the story is one of the ways this is exhibited. The narrator often breaks the fourth wall and talks to the reader directly. Or a specific character might work as a stand-in for the audience’s perspective.

The Yarn traditionally is a slower to read. It’s described in metaphors of weaving or a spider spinning a web. The reader needs to want to fall under the spell of the Yarn and get trapped by the narration. If the reader is not engaged the story might read as dated, dull or too prose heavy. Lyrical and highly visual prose is always included in a great Yarn.

A Yarn is often highly fanciful and filled with childlike wonder. The core of many Yarns are fairy tales expanded and given new twists. Outlandish story complications and a high level of suspension of disbelief are normal to this form. Character development is often given a back seat to having a large number of quirky characters, or to using stock characters which produce obvious good and evil contrasts. The hallmark of Yarns is a wide or family level of appeal.

Yarns favor folk or vernacular language. Dialects and other techniques give flavor to the characters and feeling of another time and place. However, extreme language quirks are not expressly needed to create a compelling Yarn.

Setting is often a main character for a Yarn. Removing the characters from the setting diminishes the story. Mark Twain’s HUCKLEBERRY FINN is a classic example. Removing the Mississippi River would diminish the story. Being able to picture ourselves within the setting is the best part of a Yarn.

The Yarn loves to leave story threads hanging. Since Yarns come out of oral storytelling traditions, those threads would be the seeds of new stories for another day. The Yarn is not about answers; it’s about questions and possibilities. That means the plot is often open to more than one interpretation.

Example to Study:

TheNightCircusI’m picking THE NIGHT CIRCUS by Erin Morgenstern and here’s why:

· SETTING: Contrary to the book’s blurb, the story is really about the circus. The setting is the venue for the most important action and (sorry for the spoilers) also proves the main catalyst for the climax. The circus is magical, and it receives more attention in terms of development and page time than anything else in the book. Being in love with the setting is really all that’s required of the reader. With a level of affection for this setting, the reader is free to wander. Perhaps creating even more interesting adventures than the ones they find presented on the pages.

· CHARACTERS: Almost all these characters (young and old) are quirky, in part that is to feed the circus vibe, but it’s a step beyond that. Since magic is the norm in this world, almost all the major characters have talents that are extraordinary. The magic is imperfectly defined, but limited by each character’s special abilities. Motivations are sometimes unclear, but there is a black and white sense of good and bad, and we don’t need to wonder who we should like or trust with only one notable exception.

· STRUCTURE: The structure in this book is all over the place: we flip from timeline to timeline, year to year, and back, building pieces of a puzzle.

· BONUS: The story can appeal to the whole family. Yarns were for everyone young and old to partake in. Aside from one very mild sex scene, there is nothing within this story an advance middle grade reader couldn’t handle.

Future Research:

Read Mark Twain and read it all! From TOM SAWYER to THE CELEBRATED FROG OF CALAVERAS COUNTY. No one can spin a yarn like Twain.

Thank you for joining us today. We hope you enjoyed Y is for Yarn and we invite you back tomorrow for our last installment of Masterplots Theater, Z is for Zoomorphic.

If you love Yarns or tried to write one, please share your experience in the comments.

For more episodes of Masterplots Theater, check out the list below:

A is for Adventure
B is for Buddy Love
C is for Chosen One
D is for Dystopia
E is for Escape
F is for Fool Triumphant
G is for Gothic
H is for Happily-Ever-After
I is for Institutionalized
J is for Journal
K is for Kinsmen
L is for Love Story
M is for Metamorphosis 

N is for Nemesis
O is for Out of the Bottle
P is for Pursuit
Q is for Quest
R is for Rite of Passage
S is for Sacrifice
T is for Thriller
U is for Unrequited Love
V is for Vengeance
W is for Wretched Excess
X is for X Meets Y, Genre Mashups


Author: Robin Rivera

Robin trained as a professional historian and worked as a museum curator, educator, and historical consultant. She writes mystery fiction, with diverse characters and a touch of snark. She's currently working on two new manuscripts that started off as NaNoWriMo projects. You can follow her on Facebook( However, Pinterest ( is where her inner magpie is happiest of all.

15 thoughts on “Masterplots Theater: Y is for Yarn”

  1. I read Eclectic Alli’s post and wanted to drop by. Yay for being so knowledgeable about Yosemite and about writing craft! Loved your post about yarns & congrats on being (almost) finished with the A-Z!! 🙂

    1. Thanks! A to Z is fun, but exhausting. I’m ready to slow down a bit. I’m glad you liked the Yosemite post and the one on Yarns. They were both so different. I hope you enjoy the last day of the challenge. Z tends to have some fascinating and offbeat topics.

    1. Hi Jeanne, I think writers raised with strong oral traditions of storytelling always have a tendency to favor the Yarn. Good luck with your NaNoWriMo project. I think the world needs more Yarns.

    1. I haven’t seen Deadpool yet. I know! But that’s life as a mom. I don’t want my kids to see Deadpool, therefore I end up missing out. My gut says no. It is not a Yarn. There is in fact a Superhero Masterplot. We didn’t cover it because Heather and I wanted to do Sacrifice for S. Sacrifice is used more in books then Superhero. However, since a few people have already requested we cover some of the Masterplots we hopped over, I’ll add Superhero to the short list just for you.

  2. Great way to work in the Y! A Yarn may not be a true masterplot, like you said, but it’s a great way to describe a story that defies the traditional flow or structure of plot and doesn’t fit a traditional masterplot. 🙂

    And great example for it, too! I read The Night Circus last year and really enjoyed it – and I agree on calling it a “Yarn.”

    1. Good news! I’m glad someone else who has read The Night Circus feels the same way about it. I think once I figure out it was a Yarn, I liked it better. I didn’t have the same expectation for the plot and I just enjoyed the ride.

  3. This has been an outstanding series, and you picked one of my favorite, favorite books today as an illustration. When I think of yarns I think of Joel Chandler Harris’s Uncle Remus Tales, which I loved as a child.

    1. Great suggestion! Those short stories are clearly Yarns. I should have thought of them myself. Thanks for mentioning them.

    1. Sorry I didn’t make this a bit more clear, the Yarn is a style of storytelling. It works very well for some writers, but for others it’s not structured enough.

      1. Actually, you were very clear.
        I didn’t love Circus for two of the reasons you described: present tense which is nearly always too precious, and the fumbled timeline, which was completely unnecessary and very confusing for this story.
        However, I’ve noticed that nearly all younger readers love the book, and it’s we older ones who find it annoying more than satisfying.
        So you can write me off as an old fuddy-duddy. LOL.
        Another example of a yarn perhaps is All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. This book is also written in present tense and also has a mixed chronology, but you notice neither until you start analyzing the story later. It’s like seeing all the erasure marks on one canvas and seeing only the beauty of the art on another. The story of Light has the advantage of a masterful story teller.
        But I’m not a professional critic, this is only my opinion.

  4. Uhm… I’m not sure I really understand what this masterplot is about… maybe because I’v never read it?

    I’ve heard very mixed reviews of the Night Circus, but I am curious to read it 🙂

    The Old Shelter – Jazz Age Jazz

    1. Hi Sarah,
      A yarn is just a style or writing, not a true masterplot. We included it to help us get by one of the two letters we just couldn’t find any good plots for. Sorry for the confusion.

      I think the Night Circus is a good yarn. As far as current expectations of novels go… it has some issues. There is very little character development, motivations are fuzzy and the plotting is on the light side. Also the pace can really put readers off. But it’s very good at creating a setting and it’s one you can get lost in. It makes you want to run away and join the circus and that it did that very well.

We love comments and questions.

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