Is the engine of fiction physics-based?

What can physics teach us about fiction? This will either go over super well or very poorly with the sort of writer who believes they’re channelling a muse or whatever… “Imma just write until I find the characters and then the characters will tell me what the story is, you know? Here, have a crystal to rub on your forehead to release your creative self from its prison.” No thanks, I’ll stick with mushrooms.

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 me started thinking about simplifying an approach to craft, or rather, trying to understand what craft elements encompass which other ones as a way to focus on manipulating the fewest elements of a story to receive the largest payoff. My answer came from another, highly-complicated field: Physics, specifically, Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

In layman’s terms, the Theory of Relativity proposes that the measurable properties of time and space aren’t actually as fixed as we perceive them to be. They’re subjective. In our real universe, time and space flex, expanding or contracting relative to moving objects. I began to see parallels between the time and space of the physical universe and the time and space of the fictional one. What if time and space were the only two properties the writer sought to control? Would the universe of craft choices become less overwhelming in their entirety?

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