The Math of Writing

Let me say that math was never my forte. I barely skimmed by in Algebra and for some reason I did great at geometry (still don’t know why).

When I set out to write this post it occurred to me that writing can be shown as a form of math or presented within the parameters of a math concept. Here’s a quote to get you acquainted with the idea:

“Who wants what? Want + Obstacle = Conflict” -Jerry Cleaver

Seems so simple when you lay it out that way. Like a recipe contrived for good story. But breaking down a want, not an easy “I want a cookie” want, is a big deal. Your character has to need it bad enough to overcome all the obstacles you’re going to throw at them. So “I want a cookie” is not a strong enough want, unless, of course, you are Cookie Monster.

And obstacle is deeper still in that each of us face problems unique to our own natures. I struggled with algebra but you may have passed without a hiccup. Our obstacles are different and the same goes for your character. What challenge is going to give your character the most trouble?

Let’s try a similar math equation:

Premise + Activated Goal = Plot

Like our last problem but presented in a new way, our want is now a goal. But better than just a goal it’s activated. Meaning, there needs to be a strong reason to want it for your character AND a no-turning back moment to go for it.

Then premise enters with it’s super sweet idea(s). I love a good premise and tend to struggle with the characters personally. Your premise is the idea/magic system/twist/hinge point that makes anyone who hears your pitch say, “Oooh! That sounds epic!”

What these writing equations have in common is the need/want/desire/goal of the character and ultimately the world they exist in. So take a deep breath and ask yourself before page one happens what does your character deeply want? What do they want so badly they are willing to put themselves through conflict and crisis to get it? Now take that need and make it the through-line of your whole story. Everything your character does and says should hinge on achieving their goal.

So here’s to the math of writing and no grades to go with it. Can you think of any other writing math equations to add to my list? Or if you really want to grade me feel free to comment below.

Happy Questing!


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