Magical patterns in stories

Celtic KnotI write and read in pictures. For me, all books are illustrated. It’s the words – God love ‘em – that do the hard work but, in the end, what counts is what they help me to see.

You might think I’m talking about visualisation. Reading a scene in a book and having it play out in your mind’s eye like a movie. Or, conversely, imagining the movie first then writing it down. Both these things do happen for me (although not all the time), but that’s not what I mean. I’m talking about seeing story.

I’ll try to explain.

Stories have a pattern. You could argue that stories are pattern. The loom of history spews out events in a constant weave. History is, as Toynbee said, just one damned thing after another. It’s only the human mind that insists on joining those things up, creating beginnings and endings, dramatic twists, ironic fates, whatever. That’s what story is.

What we’re do when we tell a story is we’re snipping out a bit of the constant weave, holding it up and saying, ‘Isn’t this neat? Don’t you just love the way all these threads tie up in this one corner? Isn’t this little square of material just so right?’

When I’m writing – or reading – it’s this the pattern that I’m looking for. In my head it’s capitalised: Pattern. The words are just the threads that make it up. When you glimpse the Pattern – and it’s only ever a glimpse – you get that transcendent feeling that only the very best stories can give you. A sense that a veil just dropped away, that you’ve understood something you’d never even imagined was there … or that you’ve touched a truth you’ve always known, but could never articulate. That’s what Pattern is, and what it does to you.

Pattern describes something fundamental to all storytelling – to basic human perception, actually. In that respect it’s a kissing cousin of Terry Pratchett’s Narrativium, that exotic Discworld element that actually drives the flow of history. In my opinion, Pattern is pretty close to magic. So close, in fact, that I’m pretty sure I’ll write a story about it one day. I just need to decide which bit of the cosmic weave to snip out, and how all these ideas join up.

In other words, where to begin.

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