The Butterfly Effect

If you’re a chaos theory fan, your palate might be set for entirely different fare than what I’m about to present. This is not a post about Edward Lorenz or the effect the flapping of a butterfly’s wings may or may not have on hurricanes or tornadoes. Instead, I want to discuss a butterfly sighting and the effect it had on my life. (Let this be a lesson to you if you’re new to this blog: keep your expectations on a low setting and your phasers set to stun. Sorry. I couldn’t resist using an old Star Trek reference.)

First, call me Multitasking Marie. I flutter from one thing to the next—revising a manuscript; writing curriculum; writing blog posts; watching the behind-the-scenes documentaries of the Harry Potter movies; beta reading; checking email; reading blogs—sometimes within a short window of time. I also fit in a bit of The Sims: FreePlay. Okay, maybe more than a bit. This is my mantra of sorts: Go here. Do this. Now, now, now, now, now


Consequently, I sometimes have the attention span of a gnat, especially when I try to squeeze in too many things at once. But when I headed out to my car to zip off to church Sunday morning (in a hurry as usual), I came to a complete stop. Why, you ask? The sight of two monarch butterflies fluttering around my car.


I didn’t take this photo.

I usually see one at a time. Never before had I seen two at once outside of a nature film. I couldn’t grab my phone fast enough to snap a photo. Monarchs flutter fast, like gossamer floating in the breeze. Off they went to the weeds and wildflowers in the field near my car. The scene was so idyllic, it took my breath away.


A butterfly-less corner of the weeds and wildflowers. (Remember, I told you I didn’t get the photo of the monarch butterflies.) I can almost picture a zombie lurching through this field, because that’s the way my mind works.

The only thing the scene lacked was a bunny sighting. Oddly enough a friend later that day told me a story about a bunny—one that was hardly idyllic, since it ended in tragedy.

The image of fluttering butterflies usually is a very positive, relaxing image, and it was a contrast to my frantic hustle and bustle. But the fluttering butterflies reminded me of some manuscript feedback I recently received: questions and comments from beta readers like, “I don’t understand what’s going on. Why would he do this? Can you flesh this out?” These comments reminded me that I hadn’t slowed down enough to fully inhabit the scene—to give it enough life so that a reader doesn’t have to ask, “What’s going on here?” Instead of making sure that the character motivation was clear or other physical aspects (i.e., the spatial order of each character) were presented well enough, I fluttered off to another scene, leaving a reader behind with questions. When I reread the scene, and this time really focused on it (something I should have done before handing it to a beta reader), I realized what information I had forgotten to provide to help a reader track the action.

Sometimes a writer needs to trust a reader to figure things out without spoon feeding him or her. But sometimes a writer lands too lightly in a scene and seems too eager to flutter off someplace else—just like a butterfly or a busy multitasker. As in everything else, balance is necessary.

Monarch photo from Sims image from Nokipedia.

32 thoughts on “The Butterfly Effect

  1. Monarch butterflies are the only insects that migrate to avoid cold weather-travelling up to 2500 miles. I think that is remarkable for such tiny, fragile wings 🙂
    Although I have read that it is only the fourth generation that do it-for whatever reason the first three generations die too soon. Perhaps you have a butterfly expert follower who can explain this! 🙂

    • I’ve heard that they migrate, but I never knew how they managed it. They are remarkable though, aren’t they??? I can’t blame them for leaving to escape the cold!

  2. Poor gnats get such a bad wrap. I’m sure they’d be upset if they paid attention.

    I’ve written scenes like that where I only want to get to the end because it’s been a long day or I’m frustrated. I tend to believe I’ll fix it during editing since that allows me to focus more than the first draft writing.

  3. Butterflies are fun to watch, aren’t they? I have a picture I actually took that I’m going to send you. 🙂

    I don’t know what I’d do without beta readers. MTM is beta reading my MS now, and I gave it to Amber (my not-married-to-me beta reader) as well as my editor to start hacking into it. Having done some beta reading lately, I hope I did a better job of digging into this MS. Depth is a hard thing to get right, isn’t it?

  4. One rare day, we pulled over at a rest stop area on the interstate in northwestern Kansas for our dog to get out and run. We walked out toward a field and stopped in among a group of elm and maple trees. These was a sudden rustling, and WHOOSH! thousands of Monarch butterflies flew out. We were amazed and stood quietly (even our dog) as we were surrounded by masses delicate fluttering wings that began flying away for their exodus.
    I know it’s not the main theme, but I had to share this. 😉

      • I wish I’d captured the moment. But maybe it’s enough that I witnessed it and can carry it in my heart. 😀

    • How lovely, Marylin! I thought about the migrating monarchs when I wrote the post. I’ve never seen the migration, except in a nature film. That must have been quite a sight to see! Thanks for stopping by!

  5. funny you should post this. Saturday, hubby and I rode bikes down to the botanical gardens and visited the butterfly house. So many beauties! It’s one of our favorite things to do during the summer. Like you mention, butterflies rarely stick around very long (like to take a picture) before they’re off to the next flower or field. We do have to stop a bit longer in our scenes to make them solid and meaningful. Great post.

  6. I’ve come to the conclusion that my “fluttering” is just plain old ADD. Lately I’ve had a terrible time staying focused. I’m like a frog hopping from one lily pad to the next, but coming up short with each hop.

    • Jill, do you find it harder to focus when the weather is beautiful? I sometimes have that issue. But I like your image of frog hopping. 🙂 I feel that way too.

      • Yes, the weather does make it more difficult. I think the main culprit is too much caffeine, but I refuse to give up the yummy chocolate tea you sent!!!!!!!!

  7. I agree with what you’ve said about a writer trusting a reader to figure it out, much too often we are spoon fed which actually kills off the delicious opportunity for discovery. But then, that leaves us with a lazy muscle… interesting post.

  8. I’ve got a tragic bunny story, but I’ll save it for another time. Think Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but with bunnies and an unexpectedly savage house cat instead of teenagers and chainsaws.

    You’ve articulated two of the key reasons to have a beta reader: The stuff we can’t see, and the barometer for too much vs not enough.

  9. A visitation from the divine. So fleeting, yet so uplifting. I wonder if they are so beautiful because they only live for a short time? Some butterflies do overwinter here in the UK and remerge the next spring/summer. But they’re no less beautiful than the shorter lived ones, so I guess that answers my own question. One summer we had thousands of Painted Lady butterflies alighting here on the coast. I counted about two hundred in the gardens around me. It does amaze me that they can fly so far on their delicate wings.
    I’ll send you a pic my daughter took the other evening while watching falcons on the cliff top. A Marbled White butterfly resting on a white daisy!

  10. Fluttering. I prefer this term much more than ADD! My son struggles with ADD and I am going to use fluttering the next time he flutters! 🙂 How great that you really did stop to smell the “roses” and didn’t rush to get into your car to get to church. This is a perfectly good reason to be late. 🙂

  11. Pingback: Okay, Now It’s Getting Ridiculous | El Space–The Blog of L. Marie

  12. Pingback: Photos of A Swallowtail Butterfly Taken For Blogger, Linda Washington | brickhousechick

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