Category Archives: K.R. Melton
It’s a great feeling…being wrapped up in a story so deeply that I put off using the restroom for just a few more pages; when I try to dream about the characters and the world in which they live. Sometimes I’m astounded if the book is not already completely devoured by two in the morning. You know the feeling. Just one more page, just one more paragraph, that last sentence, and then..and then…it’s over. You’re expecting at least several more pages, if not a couple more chapters. You feel deceived and disappointed. This is because the book you’ve been reading does not align with the Golden Mean, the origins and definition of which was discussed in my previous post. While the story may have been gripping, had great characters and witty dialogue, it leaves something wanting. “Ah well,” you think to yourself, “maybe I can dream about it later tonight.”
In writing fiction, there’s a lot of talk about “pacing” and where the plot should climax. A great article on pacing by Vicki Hinze can be found here. There are other questions too. How much should be written after the resolution? How long should the climax and the resolution and the “return to normalcy” each last? I’d like to present for your approval the use of the Golden Mean. When I was a Music Composition student in college, we looked into using the Golden Mean (here defined as a ratio of about 1:1.618) in many, many ways. One of these was deciding where to put the “climactic moment” for a piece. In a four-movement piece, we generally put the climax in the second half of the third movement. We were able to tell the right spot not by counting up how many beats, but by using a stopwatch. Music is not the notes on a page. Music takes place in real time.
Novels and other fiction, however, take place in the readers’ imaginations, and the timeline, depending on the writing style, can sometimes jump around quite a bit. What I’m suggesting is that stories are not as simple when it comes to deciding on where to put the climax. Although a writer could count the pages and figure out where the Golden Mean is, I believe that a story is more complex. A few sentences of snippy dialogue may take place over a few minutes of time. A description may take up several pages, but occupy a much smaller space in the readers mind because the reader could ascertain the information (if the reader were in the story) in a moment’s glance. This is a significant piece in figuring out the equation. Again, the story takes place in the reader’s mind. So, when reading it back to yourself, ask, “How long does this story actually take in my mind’s eye?”To discount the role of certain elements like time-occupying action or conversation in a story when calculating the correct place for your story’s climax would be foolish.
What I like to do is figure out the general length of what I want to write then make sure that around 3/5 of the way through, the crux of the story appears. Usually, I re-read what I write several times (I’ve re-read this post five times already), so I know if something needs adjustment–if something doesn’t feel quite right. This requires a lot more than good math. It requires a good sense of your own brand of “writer’s instinct.”
Keep in mind that I’m talking about a story, not a book; some stories last for several books. Several times, I’ve read to the end of a book and wanted, really wanted, more right away. The story wasn’t complete, even though the book was. So remember that this idea works in the reverse as well… But more on that in my next post. We humans have an built-in system that tells us what does and doesn’t have beauty* . That’s really what the Golden Mean demonstrates in mathematical form: what we humans find beautiful. It is the math of beauty.
*beauty is here defined as the sense of rightness a person experiences emanating from a piece of art or writing.
Working as a home school tutor for Classical Conversations in the past year or two, I’ve been amazed to see how completely different areas of life relate. One of my favorite subjects is the Golden Mean (also called phi) and the closely related Fibonacci Number Series. It’s a math thing. But it’s also a writing thing.
But before we go any further, let me clear something up. Phi (approximately1.618) is not the same as Pi (approximately 3.14). Phi is more about proportion. Pi is more about circles.
Leonardo di Pisa, a.k.a. Fibonacci, lived in Central Italy between 1170 and 1250, give or take a few years. He wrote a well-known text called Liber Abaci, which means Book of Calculation, but is most famous for a series of numbers that can be infinitely calculated–kind of like pi. This sequence begins with 1, and 1. To continue on, a person adds the previous two numbers together and comes up with the next number in the pattern. 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, etc. We cannot begin with zero. Zero and zero make…you guessed it! Zero.
These numbers are known as the Fibonacci Sequence. Interestingly, they are seen in nature with a higher rate of frequency than others. Apricots and other monocot fruits have, by definition, one cavity and one pit. Many, many plants have opposite leaves (two directly across from each other), and many have 3 or 5 leaves in a cluster (I’ve personally never seen a cluster of 4 or 6 leaves). Apples, when cut in half, have a five-pointed cavity “star” with seeds. Next time you take a walk, check out how many plants use the numbers in the Fibonacci Sequence for yourself. You will be astounded.
From this series we can decipher phi, or The Golden Ratio (about 1.618, ) by dividing a number by its previous adjacent. 1/1, 2/1, 3/2, 5/3, 8/5, 13/8, etc. The further along the sequence, the more precise the calculation.
Great. Wonderful. But…WHO CARES?!?! And what does all this math this have to do with writing fiction?
Have you ever read a book where the background information overwhelmed the action or the plot? Or how about a movie that ended way before you were ready for it to end (and not just because it was a good movie)? Have you seen a book or magazine with a cover that didn’t seem quite right? That’s because we have a human “bent” toward things related to phi. Phi has a great deal to do with proportion. Things in the “right” phi proportions are easily embraced and feel comfortable to us humans–even our bodies are aligned with this odd fact of nature!
If you’ve taken a photography class and heard of the “Rule of Thirds,” you have been taught a simplified version of a way to use phi. Architecture, music, poetry, acoustics, engineering, and painting all rely heavily upon the use of phi. Simply put, phi is one of the numbers our universe runs on.
In order to manipulate our writing to feel the way it should and to plan our writing to be its most effective, we should be aware of the Golden Mean’s pervasive presence in our lives and in nature. There are many ways we can use the Golden Mean in our writing, but that will have to wait for my next post.
If the Golden Mean interests you, there are many websites and youtube.com videos that go into greater detail—even some that have animated examples. One of the animations I’ve come across is: http://www.vashti.net/mceinc/Unfold0.HTM