Thursday, September 26, 2019

Patterns - In Words - In Life

By Cheryl Oreglia

Humor me for a moment and imagine a pile of words as if a clump of clay, siting lifeless on the table, until the artist comes along and molds it into some sort of shape. Right? Before one word is selected, or the skill of the artist is applied to the clay, in that moment the possibilities are endless. It's the most enticing and frightening part of the process for me.

As I stare at the unformed page, organizing my thoughts, censoring nothing as waves of words ebb and flow through my mind, it's an exciting moment, full of tension, a touch of fear, and unquestionable elation. I have always aspired to shape my 1,500 word posts into something worthy of display, as if a work of art, a piece that inspires the reader to stop and ponder it's meaning.

After hours of sculpting, a rustic image begins to appear, but I believe it takes enormous courage to lift the cloth, boldly revealing that which you have cast, intentionally or not some hidden aspect of the self is always unveiled.

"Soul animates body to make a living being, just as form animates matter to make a piece of art," claims Jane Alison in her recent book Meander, Spiral, Explode. If formation and pattern are the soul of our narratives than I think it might be worthy of our consideration?

There are many ways to write, the most popular having something to do with an arc, meaning historically a story has been defined or burdened with a beginning, middle, and end - And they lived happily ever after - a narrow but classic closure. The truth is there are many ways to weave a story and often without knowing we use various strategies and patterns when we write. This is the personality of your work and as with people it can be charming or annoying or boring, or worse unengaging and we simply loose the audience we so painstakingly enticed.

Strangely enough when you explore structures of writing we find they mimic fundamental patterns in nature! It's all so pleasantly rural. Look around you, everything is patterned, this can be comforting, and distressing at the same time. Right in front of me are patterned blinds shading me from patterns of light filtering into the room, below me is a patterned tiled floor. I'm sitting on a patterned chair beside a patterned brick fireplace and layered wooden mantle. The plants I have scattered about the room in an attractive pattern are patterned with leaves and flowers. Outside the tree and bushes form an attractive pattern. It's extraordinary when you stop and look around. Even the keyboard I use to type this piece is patterned along with my daily schedule and patterns of sleep.

Oh my, the webs we weave are adhesive as hell.

We have distinctive ways of organizing our stories, usually they fall in the form of Parataxis or Hypotaxis. Parataxis being a linear form: She walked into the kitchen, filled her cup, reached for the morning paper, and decided to spend her morning on the patio basking in the sun. As opposed to Hypotaxis which is a more spacial form of writing, it bounces, and lingers leaving the action hanging in favor of comparative relations among the elements: It could have been the crows gathering in the Magnolia tree for their morning chat, or the aroma of freshly brewed coffee that moved her thoughts in a deadly direction, she had to shut that shit down, and snuggled more deeply into her voluminous pillow muffling the wayward solicitations and fetor of scalding java.

I am a Hypotaxis writer, the story draws me into the underlying symbols, but it is the meaning embedded in our stories that I find so titillating. How about you?

Jan Alison says it's not about what happens next but instead weaving a net whose design you can't see until it is finished. Sometimes when I'm reading a novel that uses this approach, someone like Ruth Ware, I literally have to use all of my inner strength not to peek at the final pages, I have to manage this uncomfortable tension between knowing and not knowing, which only serves to heightens the suspense. Let me just say the struggle is real and I failed while reading her last novel.

I've sought to create powerful narratives that hint at embedded structures but avoid the simplicity of the classic arc, structures that create an inner sensation of traveling toward something and leave a sense of shape behind, so that the stories feel organized - not just slice of life writes Jan Alison. Stories like The Sound and the Fury, The Great Gatsby, Pride and Prejudice to name a few.

Think of the motion of the waves at the beach and how a pattern such as that can be assigned to our stories, waves of action roll in and recede, tides of thought rise and fall, "a drama with swelling and collapsing tensions," it can be as magnetizing as the ocean. Jan Alison says a wave is a clear instance of energy charging static matter until that energy is spent and equilibrium returns, elegant and satisfying. I liken it to the feeling I get when riding a Ferris wheel or roller coaster.

We have to consider the experience of the reader as they absorb the essence of the story, our goal is to pull them in, keep them in our world, until it becomes their own. Think of a story that moves like a tornado, swirling, spiraling across the page, sort of reminds me of the Wizard of Oz, with all the unexpected twists and turns, kindness and generosity playing beside devastation and destruction.

Patterns are everywhere, we like patterns, it is our nature to pattern our lives in some sort of fashion, it makes us feel not only safe but sacred, as if our life is an efficacious ritual, our deepest desires miraculously manifest in the center of routine. This is the same with story, readers are drawn to patterns in your writing. It makes me think of architecture, bee hives, quilts, paintings, textiles, flooring, even the way the grass is mowed. These patterns need to find their way into the DNA of our stories.

So it is a personal challenge that I will go in search of ways to interest my readers by using unexpected patterns, white space, repetition, texture, symmetry, and wavelike stripes, that work beyond the narrative to create motion and appeal, as if an invitation to the reader, come, join us, stay.

What are some of your favorite stories and what sort of patterns do you use in the molding of your tale?

When I'm not writing for Across the Board, I'm Living in the Gap, drop by anytime.

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