What goes up, must come down…
Every story has its physics. These are easy to think of in terms of fantasy or science fiction stories (or even CSI-style stories which, according to real experts in the field, sacrifice accuracy for story), but what if you’re writing a contemporary right here and now…and it doesn’t even have any dead bodies or exploding helicopters in it?
Physics Are The New (And The Old) Normal
Your story still does have unique physics to it. Story physics are what defines the “normal” in your story–they act as a baseline for events and reactions, and they set the tone for your characters, the things they notice, and the things that are important to them. Baseline events and settings do not exert force on your characters’ awareness. Your hero, in a contemporary story taking place in suburbia, USA, does not have any story force exerted on him when he wakes up in the morning, swings his legs out of bed, and fails to float up to bump against the ceiling. He is, however, affected by story force if he wakes up in the morning, swings his legs out of bed, and steps on a dog he doesn’t own that’s sleeping next to his bed. Wandering dogs are not part of his baseline existence. They require an explanation and in doing so, they exert story force.
For Every Action, There’s A Reaction
Your characters’ reactions to external events is a demonstration of story physics. What are the things they notice about their environments? Transplant an American into a neighborhood in Delhi, India, and he will notice everything because it’s not part of his baseline to see people cooking outside, or living close together, or living in dwellings that don’t match the architectural aesthetics of his own neighborhood. So while the walk down the street of his own neighborhood might notice the windowless van parked outside the vacant house across the street, he wouldn’t really notice the shutters on the houses, or the numbers painted on the mailboxes because these things do not affect the physics of his life. They aren’t exerting force. In Delhi, however, he may be overloaded with elements of story force.
One more thing about your story’s unique physics–they’re often mirrors of the landscape of your mind as the author. You can find your truths in fiction in these story physics. If our American transplant finds that the windowless van is, in fact, a team of highly-trained crack spies out to implant a microchip in his head and runs off to hide in India, where he discovers that the elderly woman squatting over a cookfire by the side of the road is brewing up a deadly poison she’s planning to throw in his face, the truth in this story is that out of place things are bad news. If, however, the windowless van in his neighborhood is a team of highly-trained crack interior decorators jazzing up the place for the Indian family that just bought the house, who invite him back to India for their daughter’s wedding, and the old woman cooking by the side of the road makes the best curry on the entire Indian subcontinent and has an attractive and single daughter right around his age…then you have a very different truth–one that says things that are out of place can lead to the best things that ever happened to you.
Physics is about how things work in the universe. Story physics is about how things work in the universe of your story.
My short contemporary romantic comedy, Forever Material, is out now! Please check it out!
She’s absolutely sure he’s not the marrying kind…
He’s absolutely sure she’s right…
But he’s still going to prove her wrong.