Patterning in a Literary Way

TypewriterBoyd (2008) wrote that “art is a form of cognitive play with pattern,” and this also apply to literary arts like poetry and prose. In poetry, “patterns” can be seen when there is a rhyming scheme and/or metrical scheme in use. Sonnets are an example where both rhyming and rhythmic patterning can be seen since certain lines have to rhyme and the sonnets are written in iambic pentameter.

In prose, patterning may not be as clearly defined or seen, but they do exist. Boyd states the following:

Stories fall into patterns of patterns, which storytellers can play with to arouse, satisfy, defeat, or surprise expectations — and no wonder that expectation and surprise drive so much of our interest in story . . .

The most powerful patterns in fiction tend to be those associated with plot: with goals, obstacles, and outcomes, with expectations and surprises . . .

Patterns in fiction, as in life, may proliferate and obscure other patterns. They can yield rich but sometimes far-from-evident implications. They may be open-ended: they and their implications often do not come preannounced and predigested. Sometimes they feed into efficient, evolved pattern-detection systems, but often they have to be discovered through attention and curiosity, and sometimes in ways that neither audiences nor authors fully anticipate.

In other words, when it comes to prose, it follows a similar format of having characters, plot, and setting. The plot will then usually consist of exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and the resolution. All of these then lead to tropes. Tropes are devices in a story that are familiar to us. Examples include the wise mentor (ie: Gandalf and Dumbledore), the Bildungsroman genre (stories where characters come of age like Harry Potter and The Outsiders), and rebelling against a corrupted government (ie: Star Wars and Animal Farm).

Harry PotterAll these tropes exist in storytelling, and with those who write fanfics, they are given a chance to write stories of their own with existing characters and settings. Writing their own fanfics allow individuals to deconstruct the story and recognise tropes themselves, and then they can put a spin of their own to make a “new” story. An example of this is to re-tell Harry Potter’s own story — suppose Harry’s father was killed as in the original story, but Harry’s mother survived and raised him by herself with the support of Sirius Black and Remus Lupin? Or what if Harry had befriended Draco Malfoy in his first year at Hogwarts instead of with Ron Weasley or Hermione Granger? These alternate scenarios present a lot of path a writer can take. Adding in their own perceptions, their new stories take on even more different existing tropes.

The BeatlesAs a fanfic writer, that is what I do. I wrote a fanfic once based on Severus Snape and Lily Potter friendship from their childhood days. I wrote about how a ten-year-old Lily was a fan of the Beatles; Severus was bewildered by Lily fangirling over them, but he tolerated her obsession because she’s his friend. When the Beatles officially split up, Lily was devastated, and Severus stayed by her side and comforted her. Prior to writing this, I had to plot out the whole thing, and I thought about how I’d portray them as ten-year-olds, along with what Beatles song to feature in the fic. Some of the tropes I figured into this story are like “Severus’ dismay over at Lily acting like a girl” to “Lily acting like a pre-teen fan who’s in love with a boy band” and so forth so on. In order to make this story work in a way that follows the plot diagram, I had it be a flashback fic where an older Severus is reminiscing his childhood memory, the memory came back “alive”, and the story ended by going back to present-day Severus and his thoughts on the future.

Along with the tropes, I gathered all my storytelling elements (plot, characters, setting, etcetera), my storytelling “patterns” to write a little vignette. That is how I write fanworks.

Reference: Boyd, B. (2008). The Art of literature and the science of literature. The American Scholar, Spring 2008. Retrieved from