Saturday, July 30, 2011

Math Geek Meets Novelist

No one's shocked by the declaration that I'm a math geek who happens to write, right? Sometimes the math-geekiness informs my writing with character quirks or the way I apply logic. These are relatively small ways, where creativity and command of the language still play a larger role.

Once in a while, though, the geek takes over, and graphs ensue.

Really, this makes sense. The main reason graphs exist is to give us an instant visual of the big picture. Since a novel is hundreds of manuscript pages, it's pretty difficult to look at it all at once as a whole.

What kinds of graphs? I'll share a couple. (You can click them and get a better look.)

The first is a bar graph I made early on in my writing life to see how much my chapter lengths were varying. (Yes, this was also a case of my number-OCD coming out to play.) Nothing too fancy, just a simple graph in Excel.

I haven't done one of these for my more recent manuscripts, but it gave me some thoughts about overall structure when I was first starting. Interesting note: the manuscript graphed here had twenty-five chapters at the time, but I eventually realized breaking some of them up worked better.

The second is one I just did for the first time this week as an experiment. I was curious how different plot "threads" or themes were distributed throughout the novel. Had I dropped a thread in and then neglected it for too long before it came up again? Were the key themes getting the amount of attention I feel they deserve?

So I listed three key threads, two secondary (sort of) ones, and a trait of the MC I wanted to make sure had been sprinkled consistently through the story. Then I started reading and noting the location where each item pops up or is addressed (shown as a percentage, i.e., 25% of the way through the novel). I made the graph using a middle school statistics program called Tinkerplots (yay for being a math teacher!), though something similar could be made using Excel ... I think it'd just be a little more complicated.


I'm pretty pleased with the results. The three main threads obviously have sections where they each take precedence, and the "sprinkling in" looks pretty much how I want it.

Yes, I'm a geek.

Have you ever analyzed your writing in a "non-writing" way? Have you applied your day-job skills to something unexpected?

3 comments:

Nemune said...

That's awesome R.C. but I could never do that. Great job.

Lora said...

I've applied my gains in editing skills and attention to detail to my writing on the day job. I think my psych background does help in creating characters as well.

By the way, you have an awesome blog here, and so I'm passing along to you the Liebster Blog Award. Details are on my blog. Congrats and enjoy!

Elizabeth Brown said...

Wow! You are talented. I am not at all a numbers person but so appreciate the math people! And numerology is fascinating to me. My writing is like my check book...enough said.