copyright 2008 by Gary L. Pullman
Since writers tend to look for metaphors everywhere, they’re apt to find some of them in the strangest places.
Think Sir Isaac Newton’s three laws of motion. Then, think plot. Now, there are a couple of strange bedfellows, to be sure.
Nevertheless, the metaphor seems to work, and, for writers, being the pragmatic souls they are, that’s all that matters.
1. Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.
In fiction, the external force is the plot’s inciting moment, which is the launch pad, so to speak, that launches the rest of the story’s action. However, in fiction, the inciting moment can be either internal or external and, in fact, is often likely to be both, as is Dorothy Gale’s decision to run away from home and her subsequent leaving, which results in her being caught in a tornado and whisked off to Oz. Once he or she is set in motion, the main character will continue to overcome obstacles (see the third law of motion, below) until he or she succeeds or fails in realizing or attaining his or her goal.
2. The relationship between an object’s mass m, its acceleration a, and the applied force F is F=ma. Acceleration and force are vectors, and the direction of the force vector is the same as the direction of the acceleration vector.
This law corresponds to the pacing of the story’s action. The bigger the threat that the protagonist encounters, the faster the story’s pace becomes; lesser threats or absent threats slow the pacing.
3. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
The protagonist is locked in a dance with the antagonist. Every time the former attempts to realize or attain his or her goal, the latter acts to block or otherwise frustrate the protagonist’s effort or other obstacles appear to oppose the main character. These series of antagonistic reactions to the protagonist’s actions represent the story’s rising action (that part of the plot wherein the story’s basic conflict is complicated, prior to the climax, or turning point).
Of course, the laws, which may be sufficient to account for motion, don’t exhaust the mechanics of plot, but they are a memorable way of summarizing at least some of the important elements of this element of fiction and kind of cool and interesting in a nerdy sort of way to writers, readers, literary critics, and other geeks and nerds.