How Sir Isaac Newton Can Improve Your Writing

Everything is in motion.

Such are our lives and so should be the stories we make.

I’m very much a proponent of character driven stories. The idea that we forge our own destinies and embark on grand, life changing adventures is one that I find wonderfully appealing. What does not float my boat is the notion that a select few are the lucky bastards chosen by destiny to suck up all the good fortune and exciting times while we mere mortals are reduced to so much background wallpaper.

Of course, not many of us randomly make life changing decisions without some sort of influence. Things, for better or worse, tend to happen to us and it is that which causes a series of actions and reactions.

Newton’s first law of motion basically posits that every object in a state of uniform motion or rest tends to remain in that state of motion or rest until an external force is applied to it.

This is an underlying, basic mechanic to our stories. Something happens involving or around our protagonist that changes their usual course. We all understand it so fundamentally because it is what constantly happens in our own lives. We even found a way to sum it up in a two word bumper sticker: “Shit Happens”.

I know it can be really fascinating to dream up various scenarios and complicated schemes that happen to a character. Once this thing happens to our character, then more story must happen. It cattle prods our protagonist into more situations and more story. And more is better, right?

Good and bad things happenĀ to people. Good and bad decisions make people.

Newton’s oft quoted and summarized third law of motion states for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

How valuable that is in storytelling!

Like amateur billiards enthusiasts, our characters aim for one thing and are found suddenly dealing with so many more unintended consequences. Or maybe, like a pool shark, they see an angle nobody else does and set everything in motion on carefully calculated paths. Either way, it’s the force of the protagonist on the story that should leave the most lasting impact.

Because, isn’t this what we want to see in our own lives? Slogans and catchphrases and scenic photos with bold lettering slapped on are constantly screaming at us to be the agents of our lives. Be the change. Live, Love, Laugh. Carpe diem. Follow your dreams. YOLO.

Some ideas work better than others… because a lot of people tend to misunderstand motivation.

Motivation is what you use to set a goal. “I want to go here.”

Strong motivation will make goals more specific. “I want to go here and I want to reach it by this time.”

It is willpower that is the active force. It takes willpower to turn that desire into reality.

We, as an audience, like to see our heroes get pushed to the edge of their willpower. Sure, they want to save the day, but do they have it in them to do it? Or is their willpower finally broken?

I like my villains to have a similar impact on the story. Their decisions and actions should be a big part of the troubles our hero is going through, but not necessarily with the sole purpose of impeding the hero. Instead, we have two opposing players in a billiards game. Playing on the table simultaneously. They are both putting things in motion, some on deliberate paths to impede the opposition, and other things are completely unintended reactions. All of it stems from their own motivations and the one with the most willpower makes the biggest impact.

And everything is in motion.

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