Monthly Archives: May 2011

Quantum Writing (or How Schrödinger’s Cat Ate My Manuscript)

Some cats are real pissers

I’m quite fascinated by Quantum Mechanics–one might have guessed that given the name of my blogs here and here.  So given that Monday is Blogging Day here is the wilds of the Helderbergs (we’re not in “real” mountains, technically), a touch of serendipity seems to have been involved in having this article appear in my RSS feed this morning.

Now Sean Carroll does a far better job at introducing the specifics of why these two (very similar in my lay person’s opinion) theories are possibly becoming united than I ever could; so I won’t even bother to try.  And it’s not important for a discussion on writing.  But it does serve to point out how very similar processes can serve in so many areas of life.

For me, it starts with a cat.  If you don’t know what  Schrödinger’s Cat is, please read the Wikipedia entry on the subject.  It’s by no means gospel, but it will serve.

Letting the cat out of the box

You (or I), the writer, are(am) outside the box at any given point in writing not knowing if the cat is alive or dead.  For us, as we look at our blank screen or paper, the cat is both alive and dead at the same time.  It’s only when we decide to write (ie. open the box–we know what THAT did for Pandora) that chose which story arc we will be writing.

The concept of writing revisions and story lines as “alternate worlds” isn’t a new one. There is at least one online community dedicated specifically to this idea.   That’s the grand scale.  But closer to home, I find that  I often find myself stuck with what can only be described as a Writer’s Block of Plenty.  It’s not that I lack for story ideas.  I have too many ideas, too many threads and pieces.  It should seem like a cornucopia, but really it becomes a gag of indecision.  Like most animal lovers, I don’t want the cat to be dead.  Neither do I wish to take a plot twist and follow it down a destructive path.

Now some might argue that I could inevitably bring the story around to where I want it, and yes, I could, except that each path taken opens up new possibilities, and discipline doesn’t seem to be my biggest asset.  There is a big joke in Reddit.land about how a person can open up the forum and stay awake all night going from one page to the next, and then the next ad infinitumShan calls this kind of “information gathering” (put in quotes because it often has not semblance as such until considered later) Cow Trails, based on the meandering paths that bovines seem to take when grazing.  Never mind that cows have a definite focus and purpose in their grazing (yummy grass and flowers).  The image seems to fit.

The closer you look, the more paths there are

This is what happened to The Swan Song series I have been working on.  At first, it was simply a little piece of pre-history for Parvenu (which was a piece of pre-history that I based loosely on the Response Folders of our [Shan and I] days in high school).   Out of pieces of those free form (basically vomit prose), endless ramblings of characterization and world building, I find tidbits to study, pieces that were needed to explain one character’s behavior but take a life of their own under the microscope.  These threads become stories of their own and take off, creating their own set of characters, scenes, history, and so on.  (Indeed, I used to write my stories based along those lines, going back for any number of pages to a section that I found “fun” enough to recreate.  I would rewrite and build a new piece wholly unrecognizable from the original.)

Artistically, the intricacies of writing fiction are easily related to quantum theory–especially what is known as Relational Quantum Mechanics.  Take Point of View (as something I’ve been delving in with the Swan Song series) where each character acts in the story differently based on their own perceptions (and indeed, each character is a different character/person based on the perceptions of other characters).  If I write the story from one character’s POV over another, I end up writing a very different story than I would if I wrote the piece from the point of view of say that first character’s mother or father.

But what about the needs of the story I envisioned?  Don’t I follow an outline?  Dare I say that I am one of those writers that never plans anything?  Truth is my outline is rough at best.  For every story I have a few points I need to touch on and I allow myself to fill in from there. (As my husband notes, this is also a common method of software design [though this man would like to sell you some software based on the concept]–which by another serendipitous act showed up in my reddit list for the morning.)

Or to put it in other terms, certain things that must be done, and they must be done irregardless of personal preference .  As with the original Cat, the choices aren’t infinite–either a live cat or a dead cat will come out of the box.  Live cat?  I must feed and care for it until it is either a dead cat or I otherwise dispose of it.  Dead cat?  I dispose of the body. In fiction, one must have conflict, resolution, setting–the battle scenes, love interests, and all those pieces that we choose to write about.  That moment, we make the choice to put words to medium, we choose not to write a story as much as we choose to write one.  (Actually we choose not to write many stories.  They aren’t what we, at that Schrödinger’s moment…that point where the cat can be presumed  both dead AND alive because we are still just looking at the box… chose.  Instead we are that single atomic particle that may either stay put leaving a miserable (but alive cat) in the box or break off tripping the Geiger counter and thus breaking the flask of poison.  We are that particle, deciding the fate of of something far larger and more complex than we .)

But according to the Many Worlds theorists, both cats exist but in divergent space-time.  And to extend that theory one step further, all those stories you didn’t write were written by you (or rather by the persons you became).  Makes you tired to think of it, doesn’t it?  Just think; somewhere/sometime you are probably a Nebula Award Winner.  Of course, in another existence you never were.

Credit to: http://io9.com/5573351/

Sometimes I write those stories that I know will never make the cut.  Or rather I try.  I can’t do it.  I will always write from the “living cat” side of things.  But whoever came out on the “dead cat” side is sitting at the same computer and typing this post…  Did she stop and say “to heck with this; I have to make lunch for my son” or did she decide to go back and read the Wikipedia entry on Quantum Mechanics in further depth…did she decide to get off Wikipedia and look even more in depth, possibly sign up for a university course…  (Ooh, does she have access already?  Are we both members of some kind of wave in the space-time continuum that had reverted back to a single point in time, where she actually finished her degrees in college, is now working in a lab somewhere, but secretly still writing fiction?  One must keep in mind that the Many Worlds Theory like all Quantum Theory is based on waves, with intersecting peaks and valleys. )

The possibilities seem staggering.  Yet, when it affects my stories, I find the effect almost peaceful.  It helps when to know there will always be new stories to write.  It can be frustrating as well, but I don’t mind when I have the luxury to consider them.  (They make for some really fun speculative fiction, despite the violations of common sense and the limitations of the Anthropic Principle (weak version).)

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The Chaos of a Quiet Evening

It seems endless sometimes, but the journey is still worth it.

Today started out as normal as possible: the mad race to get out the door, the constant worry that the car would keep running, the friendly but disconnected chatter with the people at school, even the silly momentary puzzlement as I tried to decide where to go afterward: would I choose Starbuck’s, Panera, the library, somewhere else completely–heck, did Mom want to meet?

Sometimes I feel like I am spinning in so many little directions I can never see the big turns in the road for what they are.  Death by 1000 paper cuts is how my husband describes it (though I suspect he is not the first to use that phrase), and that is a perfect example of the situation: Here I am, sitting at a computer, connected to a broadband carrier that will allow me to use most any websearch service, but I won’t look up that phrase to see who first coined it, mostly because I dare not get “off topic” anymore than I already am.  (And truthfully, the quality of most websearches of late has been so mediocre, I’m not sure it would help anyway.  Try to Google anything these days without having the first ten links involve some review company or marketing firm–I should know; I just tried looking up the address and phone number of the Monro Muffler Brake in East Greenbush and NEVER even got a link to Monro.com [the store is here, btw].)

I can finally see the sky

The majority of the day I spent on remote control or some semblance of it.  I was able to compose some ideas for Courting the Swan Song during my bout with 750words (I almost made 2000 today, most of them story related, involving the Oath of Service members of the Royal Guard must make to their Andar and how it affects Alanii and ‘Listii the first time Alanii takes himself a vassal).  The ideas were flowing fast and furious actually, so much so that I was often afraid to slow down in my typing lest I risk passing by one.   Though I did, often.  I know that “first thoughts” are often flawed (at the very least they are often better when allowed to stew and become richer and more full of flavor).

This cornucopia  was a product of my most favored form of writing…the day dreaming method (not really its name, just something I call it; I don’t actually know if it even has a name).  What this method involves is me staring at my computer screen, playing some mindless cardgame (it has to be a mindless card game, like solitaire–Vegas-style with cumulative scoring) and listening to music (usually something I know very well and am nearly numb to, Vangelis or Tomita both work very well) for often hours without interruption.  Then I go to sleep, only to wake up the next morning bemoaning the fact that I can’t just sit for hours and type everything that is spilling out of my dreams.  On rare mornings I can sit, with either pen and paper or my laptop, and spew away, but often several hours pass before I reach a point where I can settle down and put the ideas into a more permanent form.  Of course I forget some.  I remember most however, and those that linger the longest I’ve found full or details and side considerations that launch me into paragraph upon paragraph of a scene.  (In the words of those silly people at the Art of Manliness..  this is Invention!)

When things flow smoothly, it’s beautiful.

It’s a rare gift when I have a day like this lately; most of my computer time seems to be dedicated to “getting work done”: paying bills, catching up on the back-log of articles and essays I get sent, or typing in second drafts of the many notebooks I have filled over the past many years (most of which will never see the light of day, but serve a different purpose now in inspiring me to new and better things), or showing my son the latest pictures of the planets or Linkin Park videos at his request.  Time to just just and stare, to allow my subconscious to work its magic is so rare that I always approach it with the amazement that overtakes me when I see a butterfly….will it stay? how long can I enjoy its presence? WOW!

Scrivenings on Scrivener for Windows

I’m a recent convert to this delightful little(!) program from the folks at Literature and Latte.  Since I don’t have a Mac (it’s not a preference thing, it’s an inertia one), I am happily risking my computer and story files to play with the most recent Beta test version (you do notice that they aren’t brave enough to post that on their main page yet–sad, because even the Beta is quite good).

What I like the most about it is the way I can finally relieve my mind of the internal outlines I am always carrying around with me.  Most of the outline styles I’d learned in school didn’t work for me: I too often found myself obsessing over the outline and avoiding the writing.  The apparent inflexibility of the two formats (and my conviction at the time that I needed to be able to write something and have it be “just right” the first time…I know now it can’t be done) basically left me holding story after story in my head, making hundreds of little metal changes in the format for each variation that showed up.  And heaven forbid that I throw something that didn’t work away….  But that’s an issue for another post.

However, as one can see by this picture, I have found my dream outlining setup and it’s right on the screen with my research, the pictures I use as inspiration, the scenes I write and even the soundclips I’ve even used to help portray certain moods.  I haven’t fully explored all the possibilities of the program yet.  Even after following the Tutorial included in the download, I know I am completely ignorant as to the full power of the program.  But at the moment, it’s what I need.  And after my recent discovery that I would no longer be able to rely on my old WordPerfect 5.1/OneNote combo (my laptop comes to a standstill every time I open OneNote of late, which effectively makes the program useless) when I am switching between my two computers, I feel like this little revelation from NaNoWriMo last year has been given to me by some divine being [I’ve heard his name is Lee Powell]. 

Hey, no one said I couldn’t dream.