An organizing principle is a basic idea or strategy we use to organize our world. Think of it this way: all of the methods you can use to sort your MP3s—by artist, by song title, or by date—are organizing principles. Your choice shapes the way you can access the files. In a similar way, writers use a variety of organizing principles to organize their work. Their choices determine how readers interact with and understand the content.
Fiction and the Organizing Principle
Let’s imagine that J.K Rowling is writing a short story about Voldemort’s experiences just after he comes back to life. He is a reclusive bachelor, living in a rickety old house. Clothes (okay…really, just black robes) sit crumpled on the floor. Plates are piled in the sink.
Voldemort has had enough: finally, he will do the dishes. Rowling might use the organizing principle of sequence–an order of steps–to structure her work. Here are a few ideas Rowling might try to work into the piece of fiction:
- The hiss-like sound of the water filling the sink
- His disdain for the pile of dishes (he looks haughtily at them, as if their mere existence is an affront)
- Voldemort’s peculiar way of holding the scrub brush (between his index and thumb, with the rest of his fingers slightly elevated, much like he holds his wand)
- His struggle to clean the pots from the previous meal; he probably hisses “Pots” under his breath as he scrubs.
- The flicker of humanity that crosses his face as he sees his reflection in a clean dish. Does he remember what he once was? Does he regret his dark turn?
- His anger at Wormtail who, shaking from fear, repeatedly drops the plates he is attempting to dry
Sequence isn’t the only organizing principle. You can find more here.