I think I’ve mentioned before how I have emerged from a scientific background (I even have a science degree to prove it). While my life seems to have come a long way from there, there are times when I still like to apply scientific principles to the things I do. And one of the major things that I do (of course) is writing, so that’s where I’m most likely to try and follow some sort of scientific method.
We all have our heroes, and in the world of science, one of my heroes is Charles Darwin. I can’t think of any scientist at any time who changed the world as much as Darwin did. With his theories of evolution and natural selection, he revolutionised the way we think about the natural world, and our place within it.
When I write, I like to think about how I can apply the ideas introduced by Darwin. Evolution is a fairly obvious one. Just like life on earth, a good story evolves over time, sometimes changing form in ways that I wouldn’t have expected in the beginning. And when I look back on the early drafts, it can feel a little bit like digging up a fossil record, to explore my original ideas and jottings in prehistoric form.
But the aspect of Darwin’s ideas that I find most applicable to my writing is natural selection. You know the idea. Organisms adapt based on the characteristics of their natural environment. For example, if the leaves on the trees in a certain location are high up, animals with long necks will thrive while those with short necks will die out.
This is a lot like how things are with my stories. I always start with lots of ideas. But gradually, those ideas start to get whittled down. Some of them are weak and unable to adapt. Those are the ones that die out quickly. But others are strong, possessing lots of different features. They’re the ones that are likely to evolve into full-blown stories.
Even when I have my story idea and I’m starting to develop it, lots of natural selection occurs. Characters are introduced but don’t last the distance. Scenes may be written and then later discarded. Lots of specific pieces of writing, like dialogue or description, might have seemed like a good idea at the time but never make it into the final completed draft.
And it’s not just me that these story elements need to contend with. Beta readers and editors and proofreaders are all a component of my “writing environment”. By the end of the process, only the truly strong and adaptable will remaining standing.
So, in closing, I’d like to salute the great Charles Darwin and his wonderful ideas. I wouldn’t be the writer I am without him.
Posted by Jonathan Gould and tagged as