The Millions

What Physics Can Teach Us About Writing Fiction

Sometimes writing fiction feels to me like that oft-used image of a godlike creator: the man pulling the strings of the marionette, orchestrating each fine movement from above the stage. One string might be character, another plot, a third setting, a fourth conflict, then dialogue, figurative language, pacing, point of view, tone, and so on in innumerable quantities. When I position myself at the center of this image—as the Writer—fiction seems like a failed proposition. Invariably, things go wrong: the strings get tangled, the synchronization is off, I lose track of what the left foot or right hand is doing, and the whole show falters. The work is revealed as amateurish and I must step down like Oz from behind the curtain to face my shame.

As a teacher, I see my students grappling with this difficulty on a daily basis. Their small successes (“Great dialogue!”) are overshadowed by all the parts that aren’t yet working. And there are so many parts, so many ways to not be working.

This is what got’s Theory of Relativity.

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