by Rebecca J. Carlson
Last night I watched a documentary film on the history of fractal geometry, and it got me thinking. how can I use this to write a better story?
Yeah, I think that a lot. I think it about nearly everything. If I chop the end of my thumb off with a paper cutter I think, hmmm, how can I use this to write a better story?
Fractals are geometric shapes that repeat the same pattern at different scales. Like twigs join into branches, branches join into limbs, limbs join into tree-trunks, and the green grass grew all around, all around, and the green grass grew all around!'
When was the last time you organized a story or recorded details about a character using a bubble map? Yep, you guessed it. You were using fractal geometry!
Books have fractal structure too. Sentences become paragraphs, paragraphs become scenes, scenes become chapters, chapters become parts, and parts become a whole novel. But there's more to it than that. Story itself should pervade each level. Each sentence, paragraph, scene, chapter, part, and novel can tell a story.
Levels of meaning have a fractal structure. I think the best stories contain a character whose individual life may be a small thing, but it represents a whole that includes all of our lives, which in turn represents some kind of universal principle about life. A metaphor is a fractal, a pattern that we see repeated as we move from something small to something larger.
Social groups in stories can be fractal. How many stories use the actions of a small community to represent the actions of a whole culture, of a whole nation, or of the entire world?
Fractals are beautiful. Trees, mountains, rivers, ocean waves, clouds... all these forms in nature have smaller and smaller pieces that repeat the pattern of the whole. Being aware of fractals in our stories, and bringing out those patterns, can lend power and beauty to our written words.