Patterns Mirrors And Echoes

I'VE SAID THAT EVERY STORY makes promises to its readers, promises the writer has to take care to keep. Mostly, those promises are unspoken ones. And some are made indirectly, through pattern.

Just by writing, you're choosing what happens and what doesn't, what's possible in your little world and what isn't. What your characters are concerned about becomes, automatically, your story's concern as well. The kinds of people whom you select as your characters—their attitudes and capacities, the kind of relationships they get into—all are going to add up to something.

Detail on detail, incident on incident, character on character, the pattern begins to form: the implicit rules and realities of your fictional world. A reader may not notice the patterns at first, at least not consciously; but if they're carefully orchestrated and controlled, they're what hold your story together, give it both diversity and unity, and make it specially your own.

With enough accumulated detail, a shape starts to form. Any two dots define a line; any three, a triangle. Even yarrow stalks, tea leaves, and random Tarot cards fall into patterns from which people attempt to read meanings. It's part of the way the human mind works: finding faces in clouds, seeking shape, seeking meaning. So how could your story, which certainly has more intrinsic significance than a few soggy tea leaves, hope to escape?

Patterns are going to happen. The question is whether you're going to guide them into symmetry and significance, or whether they're going to spring up, sprout branches in eleven-teen contrary directions, and then slump like weeds.

The problem, at its simplest, is recognizing your tentative, partial patterns as they accumulate and strengthening them, making them coherent, getting other things out of their way to let them stand straight and tall. The next and harder stage is going beyond basic weeding to cultivating: creating patterns deliberately, to gain for your writing the immense but subtle power of recurrence, the second level of meaning that can only be spoken in echoes.

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