Writing

Patterns and Prose

The other day, I stumbled upon a thought-provoking article by Alexander Nazaryan titled Why Writers Should Learn Math.  It was a persuasive article discussing the abstract and imaginative thinking needed for higher level mathematics and how that style of thinking benefits an author’s writing.  Before you throw the book at me, let me start by saying mathematics is so much more than numbers.  It goes far beyond what is taught in high school.  I am not going to recap the article.  It is linked above so you can read and interpret it for yourself.  However, I would like to add a few points to the discussion.

All stories have structure and repetition.  Beautifully complex stories are interwoven layers of the same structure and repetition applied over and over again.  In fact, that is the approach the Snowflake Method is based upon.  Consider how much more meaningful it is if the theme of your story did not just play out in the overall storyline, but also in the details and characters throughout the story.  (In case you didn’t already know, snowflakes are complex geometric shapes that are formed through the repetition of the same pattern.  They are fractals.)

Another mathematical concept that is useful for structuring a story is symmetry.  Repeating the same sentiment at the beginning and the end of the story creates symmetry.  The added depth is a result of the character’s shift in perception in the end.  The character no longer views the context the same, and that implicitly alters the meaning of the sentiment.

The structure of a story isn’t the only place repetition and symmetry work together to add depth and create interest.  When the protagonist and antagonist both have the same values, personality traits, and even the same goal, it produces a sort of symmetry. The line between the two blurs, mimicking real life.  It makes your characters more relatable.  What sets them apart is the lengths to which they will go and the methods they will employ to obtain their goal.

Whether you love or hate math, there is a benefit to understanding the abstract concepts behind the applications and computations that some students learn to dread.

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