Construction Zone: How Writing is Like Math

Last week, I found myself at a stand still with my serial novel. I emailed a friend for help, and through her questions and my analyzing everything that had gone before, I got the answer I was looking for (which incidentally, was “who done it”). Obviously that will be a secret to the readers for awhile yet, but I needed to know in order to set up the rest of the story correctly. I couldn’t go forward without the answer.

Somewhere in the midst of our exchanges, I realized something rather disturbing. The kind of plot and character analysis I was doing reminded me of a math problem – one of those complex algebra problems that can take an entire page of notebook paper to solve. I basically figured out what the fixed variables were for each character, then plugged them into an equation depending on how those variables related to each other. Adding and subtracting potential variables based on the fixed variables is what got me to my ultimate solution – a logical solution that isn’t too obvious, but will (I hope) be a bit of a surprise, only becoming logical when we look at everything that came before. Sort of an “I can’t believe I missed that” kind of thing. Or that’s what I’m hoping for, anyway.

I hate math – I always have. I think it’s because math takes a lot of brainpower for me, and I’m lazy. My whole life people around me have talked about math (logic) being at odds with language studies (creative), and I believed that. I never for one minute believed that whole “you’ll need algebra when you’re an adult” mantra that the adults tout(ed?).

Color me wrong. Apparently, I’m wrong on both counts. Math can be applied to writing, and I am actually using a roundabout method of algebra when plotting stories. Really – who would have thought?

Have you ever thought about applying math to your writing process? How about some other discipline? How do you get over being stumped when it’s something in your manuscript that’s not working?

9 comments on “Construction Zone: How Writing is Like Math

  1. Shannon O'Donnell

    I avoid numbers and all things mathematical whenever possible. My brain hurts just thinking about it! 🙂

  2. Cynhia Schuerr

    Jamie, I am not as inventive as you are, apparently. I’m with Shannon on the numbers. 🙂 My characters evolve as I write. I have a basic idea, but I have never gone into that much planning or construction before sitting down to write. Usually the characters build themselves as I go along. I love to write as though I am meeting this character for the first time. I don’t know if that is a right or wrong way to do it, but that’s how it works for me. I think it just may be two different styles of writing.

  3. Dolly

    I haven’t applied Math consciously, but I am not surprised that you found it related. Writing for all its creativity is also an intensely logical process – because at the end of it we are trying to have a finish product that should “make sense” to general public, which means following laws of common logic.

    There has been few attempts in every generation where people try to bridge the gap between science and creativity, while most people see them as two different entities – but they are just two different sides of one coin.

  4. Carol

    The only thing worse than Algebra is Calculus!

    I’m not a math person, although I did pretty well in math in highschool. I can’t say that I’ve consciously applied math to my writing – maybe that’s the difference between pants-ters like me and planners like you. 🙂

  5. Jamie D.

    Me too! That’s why it surprised me that I connected the two! Dang it anyways… LOL

    Although, algebra is more letters than numbers…

  6. Jamie D.

    Nonsense, Cynthia. You’re a poet along with your other writing…which if I remember correctly, is actually more related to math than any other form of writing. LOL

    For the record, I don’t think there is a “right” or “wrong” way to write – there’s only putting the words down on paper as they make sense to you. All the rest is just fancy wrapping.

  7. Jamie D.

    Yes, exactly. Perfectly explained, and much more concisely than I did it.

  8. Jamie D.

    I never made it to calculus. I was sneaky in college, and substituted a geology class for the one math class I should have taken.

    And I’ll remind you that I’ve trained myself to be a planner…out of sheer laziness. LOL

  9. Cynthia Schuerr

    OK, I think you got me there, Jamie. LOL
    There is some numerical planning in poetry. But, I tend to think of it as more rhythmical than numerical.

    I do agree totally on the second point you make, Jamie. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to write. That’s why writing is so unique.