(Almost) Everything I Learned About Writing Novels, I Learned as a Computer Programmer
Mastering the language of storytelling is full of challenge. Besides honing skills in word usage, grammar and pacing, crafting believable characters that live inside believable plots is paramount to achieving an engaging, page-turner.
But the logic built within a novel in particular (because of its length), mimics that which software programs are created. Thinking in algorithms gives a novelist incredible plotting advantage.
The life of a programmer is filled with possibilities. After all, the world pretty much runs on the talents of these individuals. But that’s not the “possibilities” I am referring to, here. I’m talking conditionals. If, then, else statements. While wends. Given X, what are all the possible ways that a person could arrive at Y? And for the program to work, each possible journey toward Y must make sense or the outcome is garbage.
Just like story plots. Characters are the Xs thrust by the writer on paths toward conflict and revelation and change. Like a software algorithm, possible tributaries abound and the author’s mind as the story develops is not so unlike a programmer writing code.
If you create mind maps for your novel plot lines like I do, you’re thinking like a programmer. If one drawn thought bubble suddenly gives birth to lines of connected children all begging for attention and possibility, you’re thinking like a programmer. Not all of the bubble children will live. The if-then conditionals running through your head must eliminate everything that cannot, logically, equal Y.
Have you ever written a software program…even a simple one using the code of the web—HTML? The process can be frustrating, time-consuming, emotionally draining and full of excitement once everything works just the way you’d hoped it would.
Inspiration for my female protagonist, Phoenix Messenger, in the novel “Dr. One”, comes from my decades of experience as a programmer that began so many years ago at Arizona State University. Her code will change the world.
And I am so envious.