The Butterfly Effect
The Butterfly Effect is a profound concept that takes some explaining. Edward Lorenz coined it in 1961. He was developing a weather model using an analog computer and changed the input from 0.506 to 0.506127. The simulation began the same but had a dramatically different outcome. This unexpected result proved that nonlinear systems can experience radically different results from minor input changes. To explain this effect, he coined the analogy that the flapping wings of a butterfly can alter the course of a large storm.
While easy to explain, this concept is challenging to wrap our minds around. Is it really possible for a butterfly to alter the course of a large storm? The math indeed proves it is possible. Scientists found the effect in many nonlinear systems when they looked for practical evidence.
What about human behavior? We are the definition of nonlinear and do all kinds of baffling things, resulting in wildly unpredictable outcomes. Can we prove a Butterfly Effect has occurred? Here are some examples:
David Blair, the Second Officer of the Titanic, forgot his binoculars one night. A security guard noticed tape covering the locks at the Watergate hotel. Fidel Castro failed the tryout for the Washington Senators baseball team and gave politics a try. Fred Smith founded Federal Express, but the company was down to $5,000, and he could not make payroll, so he played blackjack and won $27,000. And then there is Covid 19.
Does the Butterfly Effect describe the above examples? Small events can lead to significant outcomes, and the Butterfly Effect is one way of looking at the unfolding events.
But… Writing a Butterfly Effect type of event is not a good idea. Let me provide an example. A great baseball player failed his tryout, got into politics, became a communist, and ousted the democratic government. He became friends with other communist nations, which led to a failed invasion called The Bay of Pigs, leading to the Cuban missile crisis that nearly started World War III.
Umm… A failed baseball tryout? An invasion called The Bay of Pigs? Nearly started World War III? Quite an imagination and sense of humor, but obviously, the writer is unaware of international politics. And the plot? This story reads like a kid inventing something because they did not do his homework. This one time, umm, my friend was a baseball player, and then…
Readers require spoon-fed plots that go from one well-defined event to the next. They dislike illogical leaps, extreme coincidences, and random events. A Butterfly Effect plot would be the biggest trip down confusion lane. Why? Readers define the term linear by starting a book on the first page and continuing to the last.
I recall reading a young adult short story for a school assignment with unnecessary twists, incorrect facts, and unrealistic circumstances. The plot revolved around a far too ordinary teacher in a one-room school who was secretly a witch/race car driver who could travel through time. When she drove (At the speed limit. The author went far out of their way to point out that the teacher obeyed all laws. Why was this necessary?), sparks flew from her tires. I distinctly remember my ten-year-old mind thinking, “Wow, this is really stupid. Rubber tires don’t work that way.” When I asked the other kids at my table about the story, they had the same opinion. It was a leap too far. It turns out that the lesson was to point out all the flaws. Still, I hated reading it.
What about a far-out concept like a made-up world with magical characters that do not obey our laws of science? All sorts of plots can successfully occur in this made-up world, but the readers will start objecting when the plot connections get too farfetched. “The unicorn had the foresight to bring along the magic key, which opened the correct hidden door out of the hundreds in the dungeon, and the princes knew they were approaching because of the magic…”
And somehow, somewhere, a butterfly’s wings flapped in my life. Who would have thought I would develop a passion for locating obscure topics that authors cannot write about? Not me, and not some butterfly, that is for sure.

You’re the best -Bill
December 06, 2023
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