My dad called the other day. He’s not a big one for talking on the phone. His is even one of those ancient flip phones that people tossed for the smart ones. Usually it’s my mother who calls and checks in, feeding me the funny anecdotes of my sister’s kids. So when Dad calls I get nervous. It’s a broken pattern.
It’s the same for whenever they call any time after seven at night. It’s past their bedtime. When seven rolls around, they’re tucked snugly in their beds, lights out and everyone snoring contentedly. It’s their pattern.
So, when Mom calls that late I snatch up the phone. “Who died?”
“No one died. Why?”
“Because it’s 9:15. You never call me this late. Is Dad okay?”
“Your dad’s fine. He’s playing Tetris on the bedroom computer. I just wanted to call and see how everyone is doing. You always whine that I call you too early. Now you’re complaining that I’m calling too late. There’s no winning with you.”
Now, before you think I overreacted, the same conversation happened between my sister and Mom just two weeks ago. And yes, my sister answered the phone the same way I had. We react that way because people live their lives according to patterns; they’re predictable. We count on those patterns because they help us navigate life through safe waters. They assure us that everything is all right in our world.
I’m not saying that there can’t be spontaneity in a person’s life. Actually, we need those sudden acts of randomness. I’m not talking about activity, however. I’m talking about behavior. Breaks in patterns of behavior usually send up warning signals. It’s how a spouse knows that something is going south. Sudden late nights at work. Unexplained messages. He starts bathing. Her cooking gets better. These could be the breaks in a pattern that should give you concern.
It’s the same with children. Why are they suddenly cleaning their room and bathing in cologne? Something in their life has changed. Do you know what it is?
I add these patterns to my characters. They add something and if the reader is paying close attention, they can see when the patterns change and know that something new is coming soon. It also helps embed a character in the reader’s mind. You pick up on mannerisms and habits. You can even predict future happenings in a story if you’re paying close attention.
Life is full of patterns. We just have to be observant enough to find them. Ignore them and you may be in for a surprise you never wanted.
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