While arrangement is one of the five canons of classical rhetorical training, it is often not studied at all in creative writing, although it is important to think about once you begin to assemble a body of work. Authors, book and journal editors, and anthologists all think about arrangement when creating larger works.
Considering works in relation to one another is much different from considering them as independent texts. How will this group of texts communicate with each other? What effects can a group of works have on readers?
While brainstorming, I came up with a number of ways that I think about arranging a body of work—a taxonomy of literary arrangements. I categorize the arrangement strategies as either pragmatic or aesthetic, although there may be other categories that can be separated out from these. Arrangement techniques function for collections of poems, stories, plays, or essays as well as anthologies, journals, and textbooks, etc.
I also want to add that I have come to create the taxonomy below after arranging many sequences of works—my own and those I’ve worked on as an editor—and I’m often more inclined to operate using a felt-sense method at first blush. Upon returning or reconsidering an arrangement, however, I can see what strategy might be in use, and I can then think of using it more consciously to create an effect or play up what I might have been working toward subconsciously.
Further, I like to see work physically when arranging it. I’m likely to lay the work out in a large room on the floor or tape it to the wall, so I glance at work, walk among it, grab it, put it down, rearrange it, etc. In short, there is a physicality to my arrangement process that does not work as well on screens, especially for longer sequences.
- alphabetic: arrangement by name, typically the author’s
- genre: in a multigenre work, things may be arranged by the genre classification
- rank/cachet: by perceived importance
- chronological: arranged by a strict date order
- historical/periodical: grouping works together by literary period or school i.e. Victorian, Postmodern
- geographic: by location
- mode/media: technological mode of production used to arrange i.e., oral traditions separated from printed separated from born digital, etc.
- stylistic: the ways an author or authors use language
- communicative: a grouping devised so that the pieces speak to one another (also: conversational, dialogic)
- juxtapositional: a grouping strategy that puts unlike pieces together to create a jarring, surprising effect (also: dialectical arrangement)
- rhetorical: uses pieces in a tactical way to make a larger argument or persuade
- harmonic: uses pieces in unison like a chord blends notes on a piano or guitar, calls attention to how pieces work together for a pleasurable effect
- dissonant: uses pieces in unresolved, indeterminate, or discordant ways to create an effect, often confusion, chaos, or displeasure
- collagic: applies the tenets of collage or cut-up; often shows the rough edges and “tape” between pieces in an arrangement
- project-driven: pieces are arranged to achieve a larger conceptual goal or to be greater than the sum of the parts
- hinge/fulcrum/pendulum: pieces attuned specifically to a type of limit or edge move toward or away from the limit/edge (sometimes to-and-fro or even beyond) to create an effect from acknowledging the limit’s existence or boundary
- compartmentalized: arrangement strategy that implicitly or explicitly groups works (typically like with like) to achieve an intended purpose
- concentric: pieces are arranged fluidly or fixedly around a central core (concept, idea), exploring the core from a several perspectives or depths
- narrative (master/meta): using small pieces to tell a larger story, think chapters in a book or sections in a longer poem or interrelated short stories or poems in a collection or journal
- confrontational: an arrangement in which the pieces are at war with one another or the audience
- hybrid: an arrangement based on blending, either of different genres or of different arrangement styles
- interactive/hypertextual: an arrangement style that allows the audience freedom when interacting with the work (difficult to do in print medium although not impossible)
- stir of echoes: a strategy that arranges echoes and chimes of certain language, images, or themes from earlier in the work at deliberately chosen moment to create a desired effect
- melodic/symphonic: a musical grouping of composition intending to achieve beauty from the sounds of the work or to echo techniques from musical composition
- rhapsodic: a strategy that moves back and forth among contrasting styles in integrated, but free-flowing and perhaps improvisational episodes
- logical/mathematical: using classical logic or numerical formulas to dictate arrangements of works e.g., Fibonacci sequences, if/then, syllogisms, etc.
- aleatoric (chance operations/indeterminate with respect to outcome/constraint-based) using a devised process of operations to dictate arrangement e.g. dice, I Ching hexagrams, coins, Tarot cards, etc.
What strategy would you add to the list?