Patterning for Contrast

Taking the concept of the one variable a little farther, it's possible to set up scenes as contrasts with one another. Repeated elements let the reader know the two situations are similar; but something in the situation has radically changed.

This is the basis of then/now, before/after pairings.

Consider Scrooge, early in A Christmas Carol., nagging Bob Cratchit about using excess coal and requiring holiday pay for no work. Watch him show no interest whatsoever in Bob's family or personal problems. Then consider Scrooge, after his experiences with the spirits, anonymously donating a large holiday goose for the Cratchits' Christmas dinner, raising Cratchit's wages, promising to help Bob's struggling family, and commanding Bob to go out and buy a new coal scuttle.

Not only is Scrooge a kinder man: he's kinder in the very same terms, on the very same subjects, and to the identical person in the identical circumstances as he was callous and selfish before. The basic situation and terms of the two scenes are repeated, step by step, so that the degree of Scrooge's change of heart is put into the clearest possible focus and contrast.

The same correspondence of scenes is used with Scrooge's initial refusal to contribute to the poor and to go to his estranged nephew's home for Christmas dinner. At the story's end, Scrooge has accepted his nephew's invitation and has made a substantial contribution to the poor. The whole of the initial situation is played out again, point for point, at the story's conclusion.

At the beginning, the succession of Scrooge's confrontations demonstrated the norm, as I discussed earlier; the identical succession, with changed results, demonstrates the new norm at the end.

If you want to set up any strong contrast, whether it's a then/ now, a before/after, or something more complex—how a character treats his dog (with perception and compassion) and his child (with indifference)—there's no stronger way to do it than by set ting up mirror situations which echo each other's terms and conditions as closely as possible, so the one crucial difference stands out in sharp focus.

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