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

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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.

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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.

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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 butterfly-photo.blogspot.com. Sims image from Nokipedia.