7. Patterns and Variations: If life is a series of roads, give me some windows to look in.
If we’re going to take a walk, we need a series of roads to lead us. But the journey becomes boring and pointless if each road doesn’t offer something new. We want people to know how to travel our art but don’t want it to be a boring, pointless journey.
The pattern is the vehicle and the variation reveals new interesting meanings.
There is psychology in this rule just like in the one about focal points. When we were born our brain started making categories and putting things into them. For example a toddler might identify these categories for an object from patterns he sees: 1) It is 3-dimensional. 2) It’s square-ish. 3) It’s red with white edges. And he concludes it is just one of his many cardboard bricks that he likes to throw around. But when he realizes this specific cardboard brick is different it gives new meaning and interest. For example, he sees a black spot that’s not on the other bricks, realizes it’s a spider and now he knows this is the block he needs to throw on his sister.
In music, without patterns we would have no chorus or motifs. Variation on those patterns shows us what statement is being made about that motif and keeps things interesting. And there is suspense to know what variation the composer will do next to this motif
In literature we learn a character by his patterns. So when something comes along that is outside of those patterns we know he is challenged and that’s what we like to see. Also in literature we need to establish the setting which is done by setting up patterns in the situation so we know what is expected. This is called the stasis. Then we break the pattern just enough by making something out of the ordinary happen and this is called the trigger. It puts something out of place, kicks off the tension, and starts the ball rolling. Make the character feel suddenly out of place and we find meaning in how he tries to find his place again. Sometimes it is a glimpse of the extra-ordinary that motivates a character to leave the patterns he’s used to. This is story, making the character want something new and then watching the ways he tries to get it. If we didn’t have the stasis we’d be lost, and if we didn’t have a trigger we’d be bored.
Comic books are made up of stacks of pages, each with a series of sequential boxes we read from left to right, top down. This gives us a flow but once the artist starts drawing outside the edges of those boxes or making the boxes have something like ragged or diagonal edges, it shows the author wants to demonstrate something new and probably more deep and dynamic.
I suppose this blog series is an example of patterns and variations. Each one is like a little street and each has a different set of windows to look in. If the pattern doesn’t work, you won’t look into the windows. But if the windows don’t contain anything new of value, you’ll think the whole road system is lame.