Mathematics of Writing

The key of “C”

The most popular chord progression in music theory is I – V – vi – IV. In the key of C major, this would translate to C, G, a minor, and F. The number of songs written with this progression is infinite.

There are 7 notes in a major scale. G major and F major are the greatest distance away from C in the key.

So how does this translate to mathematics, and more specifically writing?

It pertains to emotional movements. The more drastic the change in how our main character feels the more captivated the viewer will be.

It is easy to focus on exterior conflict and changes when we are crafting character arcs. What separates quality writing from dull exposition are these movements. The way that I imagine mathematics will become a common topic in the writing community over the next 10 years is that numbers will be applied to these emotions. Let’s create a an imaginary “emotional scale”, in the key of happy.

  1. happy
  2. excited
  3. nervous
  4. upset
  5. angry
  6. sad
  7. overwhelmed

Now we have our key. I would like to think “angry” is the furthest emotion away from “happy.” Let’s create a short practice scene and see how my theory plays out. In the following scene, we will move only 1 step – from happy to excited.

George gazed at the sunrise as he walked his dog and realized the weather was perfect. His phone rang – it was his crush, Tina.

Ok, so we moved one step. Now let’s do it again and move through a few steps in direct, sequential order.

George gazed at the sunrise in awe of the perfect day. His phone rang – it was his crush, Tina. As soon as he answered he felt a lump in his throat and struggled to speak.

“He-hello?” he muttered.

“Oh – I accidentally pocket dialed you. Sorry!” said Tina.

George mustered a fake laugh and said “No problem,” but it was already too late. Tina had hung up. George hurled the phone at the grass and paced in a semi-circle. It was then that he realized his relationship with her was dead and the flowers he had already ordered to her doorstep would go to waste.

Ok, so we have a bit of a story there, but it is entirely predictable and mundane. Now let’s craft a scene that begins and ends with happy but hits emotions randomly along the way.

George took in the sunrise as he inhaled the fresh morning air. His phone rang – it was Tina.

“What is wrong with you?” She said.

George collapsed to a seat on the park bench. “What do you mean?”

“Flowers?” said Tina. “Really, George?”

“I was trying to be a gentleman!” He shouted. George hung up the phone and stuffed it into his pocket. He smeared his face and stared out at a couple tossing a Frisbee for there German Shepard. The phone buzzed again – Tina was calling back.

“What?” Said George.

“I was playing with you… there beautiful and honestly I’ve never had any guy do anything like that for me before.”

“Really?” Said George with a smile.

“Yeah. They’re perfect.”

“Well, you’re welcome, I guess.”

“What are you doing later?” said Tina.

George sat back in the park bench and let out a heavy breath. He laughed as the couple ahead struggled to wrestle the Frisbee back.

Not sure about you, but for me the last scene was the most captivating. I feel that this number system will one day be common knowledge for writers and used to grade/review different works of fiction.

In my recent short film, I’m exceptionally proud of the emotional movements that were implemented in the climatic scene. If you don’t want to view the entire episode, feel free to jump to 15:36. I’ve timestamped it in the link below so that it will automatically begin there.

4 thoughts on “Mathematics of Writing

  1. I really should tell my youngest son…also a blogger on WP…about you. He is a songwriter , musician who produces all his own work. He calls himself ‘Zoolon Audio’. All I have to do is remember to pass this on to him. At 114 years of age the memory isn’t that good. A post-it is now stuck to my wall. A reminder. A truly fascinating post, by the way. Regards, The Old Fool

  2. Pingback: Translation of the Intuition | Thomas M. Watt
  3. Pingback: The Logic of Illogic | Thomas M. Watt

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