By Marcia Thornton Jones

I like what Kentucky author Jim Shields says in his book of poetry, KNOTHOLE REFLECTIONS ON LIFE’S PARADE. “Perhaps life can best be described as simply a series of snapshots strung together with time. The old adage ‘Watching a parade through a knothole in the fence’ seems so appropriate to describe our ability to observe and reflect upon the unfolding experiences of our lives in contiguous, single frames.”

I don’t know about the rest of you, but my personal ‘snapshots’ backlit with intense emotion are always the most vivid, and using them as springboards for writing helps me emotionally connect to character and story. If I don’t have a personal memory that fits my story, I find that peeking through the knothole at my parade of memories until I find one with the same emotion one of my characters is experiencing enables me to write scenes with more authenticity and immediacy. And, in some small way, using those memories makes them more meaningful—as if the experience was necessary for a bigger purpose that I just wasn’t ready to understand at the time.

Why not give it a try? The next time you find your scene a bit awkward and stilted, peek through the knothole at your own personal parade of memories. Find one with the same emotional heft and describe—not the actual memory—but what it felt like. Then find emotional connection to your story by transferring your freewriting to one of your characters.

By Jim Shields

Commotion in the kitchen
And the slamming of a door,
Noisy footsteps down the hallway
Precious sounds I hear no more.

Those countless interruptions
Interfering with my day,
Memories in books and boxes…
All grown up and gone away.

(Quote, poem text, and photographs printed with permission of the author.)


  1. What a great idea, Marcia. Thank you.

  2. That old adage is new to me, but I love it. Great idea, too.

  3. Upon reflection, many of us can look at past memories and experiences and find a "story". Thanks Marcia!

  4. Yes! For one of my books, which I published decades ago, Lizzie at Last, I peeked through the knothole so much I even ended up dedicating the book to . . . myself: "for the girl I used to be." And this of all my books is the one that I still get letters about from girls who are grown up now, peeking through their own knothole of memory.


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