Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Physics of Story

1. Force is a vector quantity, expression magnitude and direction.

2. The magnitude of a story and its direction are informed by the desires, agendas, and complications of characters.

3. Characters are individuals afflicted with agendas, desires, fantasies, and tidal natures.

4. Tidal natures are wired-in behaviors, sometimes transmitted genetically, other times farmed out to the literary equivalents of Third World countries.

5. In physics, a vector is an arrow drawn to scale, representing the direction in which the force is applied. In dramatic writing, the concept of a throughline or story arc may be compared to a vector.

6. A story begins when force is applied to one or more characters. The force may be the need for a decision, coping with a calamity, which is to say love or grief or choice--anything, in fact, that propels one or more characters to change their resident behavior.

7. A story resolves when the beginning force dissipates or is diverted. Accordingly, stories do not end because the characters are alert and alive, aren't they? And they will move on until they become subjected to other forces, a concept we as writers share with them, don't we?

8.. Stories in motion tend to stay in motion, responding to the force applied to the characters.

9. Applying Newtonian observations, objects in motion tend to stay in motion until they are overcome by a greater force. Story tends to stay in motion until they confront a greater force. Mixing the apples and oranges of metaphor, stories may remain in motion until they are met with a greater force of uncertainty, understanding, or irony.

10. In story, a protagonist is a person or persons who cause things to happen, behaving as initiators or responders.

11. An antagonist is a person or set of persons who have some interest in preventing the protagonists from achieving their goals.

12. Pop Quiz: Was Bartelby a protagonist or an antagonist?

13. The conflicting force in inertia is friction or gravity or the loss of propelling force.

14. The enemy in story is stasis. When nothing happens, when things remain the same, without a hint of impending calamity when agreement is reached, the story stops.

15. And so does the reader.

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