reading · Writing

Y is Yarn

Improbable Yarn

I’ve heard of yarns and not the kind you turn into a sweater. The word is used to describe some movies and books. An in: “. . . a delightfully entertaining yarn . . .” I don’t suppose I thought stories described like that had anything in common besides being entertaining and fun.

But than I was reading The Art of Fiction by John Gardner a few weeks ago and this line stood out for me:

The yarn writer—like Mark Twain in “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” or “Baker’s Bluejay Yarn”—uses yet another method: He tells outrageous lies, or has some character tell the poor narrator some outrageous lie, and he simultaneously emphasizes both the brilliance and the falsehood of the lie; that is, he tells the lie as convincingly as he can but also raises objections to the lie, either those objections the reader might raise or, for comic effect, literal-minded country-bumpkin objections that, though bumpkinish, call attention to the yarn’s improbabilities.

Also, I suppose I considered yarn a useless word that lots of movie reviewers to describe, well, movies. It never tells me anything about the movie itself. Other than that the movie entertaining and aren’t all movies supposed to be entertaining?

I’ve not read either of the stories Gardner mentions. But before I read I never really considered that there were yarn writers.

I am not even entirely sure what a yarn is. Mark Twain was popular in his own time, so all the popular books? Books where the character tells outrageous lies?

Googleing define yarn nets me this result:

Verb: Tell a long or implausible story.

Synonyms: thread – story – tale

Really, the only story I can think off the top of the head is The Warrior’s Apprentice. Miles spend the whole book telling story after story, bamboozling his enemies into surrender.

But I am not really sure. Maybe yarn really is short-hand for entertaining and fun, like I used to think.

9 thoughts on “Y is Yarn

  1. Hi Sonia! Thank you for your recent visit to my blog. I’ve always thought a yarn was a long winded story that seemed to be going nowhere. So I suppose that is along the same lines as the verb definition of the word.

  2. I didn’t know any of these things about Yarn, that you discovered while reading that John Gardner book. When I read or hear the word “Yarn,” I think of knitting and even after reading the other description of it from Google, I still don’t quite grasp the meaning of it concerning stories. If length is a huge factor, then I guess I write Yarn blog posts but if the meaning is focused more on story and lies then I think I’ll stick to my sweaters! lol.

    Blog: The Madlab Post
    @MadlabPost on Twitter

  3. A yarn to me is a story my granddad use to tell us, exaggerating all the details and making them unreal. Yet it was still funny and entertaining. I consider Mark Twain classic literature, but perhaps he saw himself as an old man telling stories!

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