Last night while washing dishes in my new kitchen, I was somewhat disappointed to realize that no matter where I go, I still have to wash the dishes. I bet I could land on a desert island and rather than find banana leaves for plates, there would be a set of Royal Doulton just waiting for me to wash. And it's not for lack of a dishwasher. I have a doozey of a new dishwasher. But with only two of us, using the dishwasher for anything other than a feast day seems a tad wasteful. So on go the purple rubber gloves and hello, Groundhog Day.
Which got me thinking about patterns again. A few weeks ago I posted about how my art practice had led me to work with pattern as a restful way to stay centered and productive at the same time. Tiled borders, fabric prints, wallpaper motifs; I was exploring them all. I'm still enjoying adding pattern to my pictures of cats, dogs, and Barcelona, but after last night I've been thinking about patterns in written work, too.
Using patterns in novels, poetry, or even nonfiction can be an excellent way to take any piece of work to another, and deeper, level. For instance, what about:
- The patterns of a serial killer or burglar. Rather than random acts of evil, a distinct and unusual pattern can keep the story focused.
- A main character’s daily routine. (I hope it's more interesting that doing the dishes every night. On the other hand, that just might be the motivating incident that leads him or her to a life of crime.)
- How characters approach relationships or conflict: fight or flight? Or whipping out the Sunday crossword puzzle to seek out-of-the-box solutions?
- The story theme--how many related ways can you symbolize or refer to it without shoving it in your reader's face?
- How do you arrange scene, sequel, conflict, scene? Is there a pleasing rhythm that will keep readers engaged, or do you need something more jarring and experimental to wake them up? What about chapter arrangement?
- Patterns of misfortune—how does the universe work against (or for) your characters? What do they do (or don't do) to warrant this fate?
- Secret codes--whether it's a formal cipher, or one of hidden etiquette and body language, codes can be an exciting way to use pattern.
- Esoteric or sacred geometry: lee lines, metaphysical clues in Old Master paintings. architectural secrets, megaliths and circular standing stones--they're all fun to explore.
- How about inventing a character who is intrigued or controlled by patterns? It could simply be as a hobby, part of their profession, or perhaps something difficult for them to manage e.g., an obsessive disorder of some kind.
- How do your characters make patterns of their living space, social lives, and/or working hours? Is there a routine your antagonist observes that can harm your MC?
- Don't forget about music and ear worms; melodies can be either inspiring, annoyingly repetitive, or a signal that something pivotal to your plot is about to happen.