Bringing Some Reality to Your Writing

Science tries to deal with what’s real, to identify and label and if possible rule out the imaginary, illogical, impossible.

Sometimes science bothers people with little facts like gravity being the weakest force in the known universe. The only thing that keeps us from flying off into space as the earth turns (moving 1,000mph at the equator but slower near the poles) is that the earth is so huge that the tiny pull of gravity is amplified enough to keep us pinned.

Earth spinning: at the equator, a spot moves 24,000 miles in 24 hours. Simple math: 1,000mpg.

About 8 feet from the geographic pole, you could draw a circle 24 feet around. Stand (float) in one spot, and make the 24-foot trip in the same 24 hours.

That spot is moving 1 foot per hour. The bit at the equator is going 5,280,000 times as fast (1,000mph = 5,280,000 feet per hour.)

structure

Same earth, different speeds because it’s curved. Same rule applies to a vinyl record album on the turntable: the edge of the record is moving through space faster than the edge of the label, a fact even my older brother’s 9th-grade science teacher refused to accept. This is one reason we use different measurements for different things: two things can both go 45 revolutions per minute (same speed) but one travels 100 feet during that minute and the other only 33.

I have a physics textbook which decries Olympic record-keeping for ignoring the rotation of the earth and the difference in gravity between the equator and the poles. According to these experts, they could adjust most of the Olympic records by adjusting for geographical factors. Some records would be changed up or down by a few inches, which in Olympic measurements is huge.

Sometimes we try to ignore science, especially when it feels counterintuitive or gets confusing.

Sometimes authors try to ignore the scientific study of storytelling form, because art doesn’t feel like it should be learned, studied, put under a microscope; it should flow freely from the fonts of the Muses.

Great art demands a grasp of the underlying science and technique.

While a musician is expected to play scales and a painter to know colors, novelists often think the art must flow without mechanism, structure, framework.

Just as a garage band musician who learns music theory expands his abilities, a writer who learns story structure and the engineering and physics behind the novel will create greater art.

For the next 12 weeks or so, I’m going to spend our Wednesdays talking about story engineering and story physics, stolen right out of the pages of two books by those names, Story Engineering and Story Physics by author and writing instructor Larry Brooks.

If you’ve read either or both of those books, I hope you’ll still find my comments useful. If not, you’re going to learn a boatload about how to make your writing better.

Here are the 12 subjects we’ll be covering:

From Story Engineering:

  1. Concept
  2. Character
  3. Theme
  4. Structure
  5. Scene Execution
  6. Writing Voice

From Story Physics:

  1. Compelling Premise
  2. Dramatic Tension
  3. Optimal Pacing
  4. Hero Empathy
  5. Vicarious Experience
  6. Narrative Strategy

My goal will be to give you just enough information on each to help you realize its importance to your writing. Then you can decide whether you want to go learn more about it.

10 thoughts on “Bringing Some Reality to Your Writing

  1. Great topic, Joel. I recently attended a presentation where famous speeches were converted into graphics that reflected pacing, pauses, volume, intensity, etc. I don’t believe art and science have ever corrupted one another except when wielded by idiots. The science of writing is as valid as music theory and math.

    This morning, I finished working on a new manuscript with my editor—”The Writer’s Guide to Powerful Prose.” The book takes a formulaic approach to learning to recognize weak writing patterns. I look forward to reading your posts on reality and writing. I’m curious to see where our paths cross.

    1. #2: I’ve seen similar graphing of great oratory. Knowing the science behind good speaking is vital. My speaking training even included understanding the physiology of speech and of hearing. When you know how the machine works you operate it better.

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