Patterns in the Sand (repost)

Patterns in the Sand (Dennis, MA) - photo by Trent P McDonald 12/28/13

human  (noun) – A sentient being that sees and appreciates patterns.  OK, so I just made up that definition and I do admit that it’s full of prejudice.  Maybe instead of being a definition of “human” it should be a definition of “Trent”.  You see, I love patterns.

Each and every one of us has a different way of seeing and learning about the world.  My way is full of patterns.  I tend to see the big picture and interconnections.  Structures.  I leave the details for others.  I see the forest and if forced to look at the tree I notice the veins in the leaf echo the branches of the limb which echo the limbs on the tree.  We can see the patterns of quarks in quasars and find relations between leptons and the design of the universe as a whole.  Everything is related and patterns are everywhere.

I take this philosophy of patterns to my art.  If I’m drawing or painting I need to relate every part of the picture to every other part.  I don’t mean in obvious repetitions and definitely not in over-symmetrical designs.  It might be clouds here echoing the blades of grass there and the open sky echoing the open skin on the subject’s forehead.  It all relates and balances out.

Of course the patterns in music are more obvious.  Even if there are no literal repetitions there has to be repeating patterns of some type or you lose the listener.  The pattern can be a motif, a 12-tone string (look up serialism), a rhythm pattern or structures in the phrasing.  The patterns in most pop music are obvious, but have you looked for them in Schoenberg’s “5 Pieces for Orchestra”?  They’re there, which is why the piece works, but are much more subtle.

Patterns exist in writing, sometimes very obvious, sometimes more subtle.  The patterns can be very weak, sapping some of the story’s strength.  Other times they are too strong and make an otherwise thought provoking work read like a children’s book.

I try to think in patterns when I write.  Sometimes it will be a particular phrasing that I repeat.  It might be a word or phrase that comes up at certain key points.  Maybe an idea or a theme that is echoed through the characters.  Often I won’t create the pattern consciously but will notice it when I go back.

There is obviously a difference between creating a pattern and overusing a word or idea.  If I constantly use the same idea, that idea becomes stale.  You don’t want the idea to constantly be in your face.  The idea should be fresh every time it comes up.  Do you get the idea?  Of course I purposefully overused the word “idea” here and there are times you may wish to do that, but a pattern is usually much more subtle.

I will give you an example of a pattern.  In a story I wrote, “The Monsters’ House”, the main character’s read on the faces he meets are brought out.  This isn’t in your face (repeat intended), but it is a big part of the story.  A major theme of the story is the distinctions between a person’s visible appearance and their character, which relates back to the faces.  In another story, “Indian Summer”, I used musical words when I wrote about and described one character but visual words for another.  It wasn’t always obvious, but it drew a distinction between the two.

A pattern can be used in any part of a story’s structure.  You’ll find it in motifs, word choice, and sentence structure; anything that can be echoed in any way.  In a written work everything is related and the small influences the big.  The words influence the sentences which build the chapters which create the book.  It all relates and balances out.  And as humans we can see and appreciate that balance.  We can feel the patterns.  And I love patterns.


30 thoughts on “Patterns in the Sand (repost)

    1. trentpmcd Post author

      Yes, the rhythms of life are some of the greatest patterns. And there are patterns in poetry that are a reflection of the patterns of that rhythm. So looking at the patterns we can see the poetry in our lives. (How’s that for an off-the-cuff bit of philosophy to match the post and your comment ;) )


                    1. trentpmcd Post author

                      Yes. I’m sure if we took it all togther, these two parallel lines of words would form an interesting pattern. I’m just not going to show em to Freud, he may find them very interesting ;)


                    2. trentpmcd Post author

                      Yeah, you’re right again. But these parallel conversations do make a wonderful pattern, so much so I have no clue which one I’m posting on now!


    1. trentpmcd Post author

      Thanks! The story I mentioned is very long, almost more of a novella, and switches back and forth between the two POV. I try to make the switch obvious, but changing between music and visual arts based adjectives gives a more subtle cue.


  1. lifeconfusions

    I think your definition of humans was quiet fitting since “Humans are pattern-seeking story-telling animals, and we are quite adept at telling stories about patterns, whether they exist or not.”
    ― Michael Shermer ;)
    So a big approving nod to your love for patterns :)

    Liked by 1 person


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