Patterning Reflection

PatterningIn my previous post, I thought about patterning as a cognitive tool. Patterning exists in both science and the arts, and it is everywhere as we humans naturally try to make sense of our world, and try and find familiar and new patterns around us. In the world of fanworks, patterning can be seen through the tropes, which are familiar elements of seen in storytelling.

TV TropesTV Tropes is one place that tries to document all the known tropes that exist in our media. From literature to films to video games to online webcomic, tropes like “Luke, I am Your Father“, “Star-Crossed Lovers“, and “Action Girl” have their own pages that define the tropes and list examples from multiple mediums. Having a source like TV Tropes allows individuals to recognise and identify tropes, and once recognised, they can use these tropes when they create their own works that are completely original or are based off of an existing fandom.

That is why, if I were to use fanfics as a learning tool, I’d make sure my students are aware of the familiar tropes they’ve encountered at least once in their lives, and “re-pattern” them to create something “new”. As I mentioned in my previous entry, I focused on the alternate scenarios fanworks can take (like supposing Harry Potter had befriended Draco Malfoy instead of Ron Weasley or Hermione Granger). So we have an alternate scenario going on, and the creator has to figure out how to put it all together in a way that makes sense. The creator has to make other changes, too, such as Draco Malfoy’s character. By befriending Harry, will Draco still be a stuck-up snob? Or will he and Harry get closer and their friendship influence Draco to become a more positive person? What about Draco’s parents? Will they support that friendship? These are just some of the things the creators will need to figure out as they go the alternate route.

Not only that, but by going the alternate route, they can also subvert a lot of the more common tropes. TV Tropes put “Blond Guys Are Evil” for Draco, and while he does prove to be not very evil later on in the series, he’s still seen as “evil” in the earlier series. To subvert that trope, many fanfic writers portray Draco as someone who is blond, but who is misunderstood to be evil. Many fanfic writers in the Harry Potter fandom do just that, and they create in-depth stories where Draco gets redeemed by getting romantically involved with characters like Hermione or Harry or Ginny.

That is what I did with the Severus vignette in my last entry — we never got to read much about Severus’ childhood, so I imagined up one for him. I imagined his home life, an abusive environment filled with fights between his parents, where Severus’ own needs were neglected. Severus gets a reprieve when he visits Lily, though, where her mother will offer Severus food and warmth. And Lily also gave him the warmth he craved through their friendship. All of these came to me as I plotted and outlined the vignette, and I used tropes to bring the story together.

Understanding the tropes and storytelling elements allow future writers to understand “patterning” in poetry and prose. By understanding these elements, they can better their craft. Fanworks can be used as a great tool to help trigger creativity in young people. Encouraging young people to come up with their own stories and worlds are important. Fanworks may not seem to be entirely “new” — since they are based on existing works — but they still can be a great way to exercise creativity to come up with something new of their own.

Rose of VersaillesOne last thing to consider — let’s consider Rose of Versailles. This anime/manga came out in the 1970s, and it’s a historical fiction based on the events and characters leading up to the French Revolution. In a way, this work could be considered a “fanwork” since it is based on an existing “work” (the history is the work). Yet this series is now considered to be a classic in the anime/manga realm. The creator of this series brought in elements of romance, drama, and tragedy, used many tropes in the work, but at the same time still created something full of literary patterning and is still considered to be a “new work”. So yes, fanworks can promote creativity and encourage young people to find “patterns” in literary arts.

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