Rhizome Storytelling

| Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Rhizome Storytelling
Today's Tune: Closer

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So, who knows what a rhizome is? Show of hands. If you're a gardener, you might have a better idea than most. If you took my ridiculously abstract post-modernism class in college, you might have some idea how it relates to storytelling. This is going to be a super watered-down version of that same idea.

Here's what a rhizome is: it's a specific sort of plant stem that grows underground in a sort of horizontal structure, and it usually has nodules. From those nodules, it releases shoots upward and roots downward. If you cut it into pieces, in theory, each nodule should still be able to keep producing on its own.

You know these plants. These names may be more familiar to you: ginger, iris, turmeric, asparagus. If you look at any ginger "root" that you buy from the store, with its branching nodules, you're looking at a rhizome. Some species of tree even grow this way, with a vast underground root network, making them all part of the same plant.

And now you're probably wondering what this has to do with storytelling. I'll tell you.

Imagine that your story has a root, a core. It's a strong thread that weaves through the entire length of the story, perhaps never fully visible, but working as a support system for all the other threads you weave into and around it. You can think of it as a theme, or a heart, or whatever. However you picture it, it's the most fundamental part of your story. Without it, the whole thing falls apart. That's your rhizome.

Now imagine that from that core, the shoots and roots of your story grow. The characters, plot events, setting, language. Even if you cut it up and spread it out, it's all part of the same original plant. But the core is hidden below the surface. Your readers can't necessarily SEE that it's all part of the same plant. Not at first. They see a shoot here, a shoot there, a shoot waaaaay over on the other side of the yard. It isn't until they view it from a distance, until they dig their fingers into the dirt and uncover the rhizome, that they realize how it all comes together. When they uncover the thing that everything grew out of, they can't imagine it any other way. This was the way it had to be.

This sounds simple enough in theory, but in practice, it can be very difficult. It's easier to think of a story in simple, linear terms, and that isn't a bad way to write. Not every story needs to be woven together this tightly. But it is something to keep in mind. If you've uncovered the rhizome of your story, how can you better mold your plot elements, and even your word choices, to be branches of the whole, rather than separate flowers? Flowers can be beautiful on their own, and there's nothing wrong with a garden full of them. Still, it's an interesting challenge to imagine how you could craft your story into one giant interconnected organism.

Food for thought. Ginger, nom nom nom.



{ Stephanie Ingrid Sarah Kristan } at: November 28, 2012 at 5:34 AM said...

Very cool analogy!

{ Blair B. Burke } at: November 28, 2012 at 9:59 AM said...

That's a great way to look at it. I like to think I do that, but never on quite so conscious a level. I think if I tried to think about roots and nodules as I developed the story my head would hurt.

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