Before becoming a poet, a Wizard of AdsTM and a writing instructor, Peter Nevland was an engineer at Motorola.
Andrew Backus is a geologist and the living embodiment of Doctor Doolittle. The number of injured animals Andrew has rescued from the roadside would overflow the San Diego Zoo.
When I saw Peter talking to Andrew I walked over to where they were standing.
As I joined them, Peter looked at me and said, “What makes one storyteller more interesting than another? I’ve developed algorithms* to help me grade the writing assignments of my students, but I haven’t been able to reverse engineer what makes the basic structure of a story interesting.”
I said, “Stories are interesting when their components are highly divergent. Predictable stories are built from elements with too few degrees of separation between them. This is what makes the narrative arc (the plot) predictable.”
Andrew said, “Can you give me an example?”
I said, “I want each of you to think back over the past 24 hours and focus on something that has occupied your attention for a period of time, something that you felt to be interesting and worthwhile.” A minute later Andrew said, “I’ve got something,” and Peter said, “Me, too.”
I looked toward Andrew and he told me about Zoysia grass. Not only will it grow in dry climates, but it will also grow in the shade.
Peter spoke of a pattern in Psalm 15 that is broken – intentionally, Peter believes – to dramatically emphasize the unique nature of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
I said, “You will agree that these ideas are highly divergent from one another?”
Both of them smiled and nodded.
I then told the story of how God is like Zoysia grass, seamlessly bridging the tale that Andrew told into Peter’s tale of Psalm 15.
“The bridge that connects highly divergent ideas is like the flow of electric current,” I told them, “It is magical, powerful and illuminating.”
Andrew said, “So the bridge is like a third gravitating body?” Andrew, like Peter, is a cognoscenti graduate of The Magical Worlds Communications Workshop.
“Not quite,” I answered. We won’t have a true, third gravitating body until we find a third idea that is equally divergent from both Zoysia Grass and the God of Israel as those two ideas are from each other. When a single bridge unites all three highly divergent components, you’ll have a tool that will gain and hold the attention of the masses.”
If anyone can build all that into an algorithm, Peter can.
I’m interested in seeing how this turns out, aren’t you?
Roy H. Williams
PS – One of my literary heroes, Tom Robbins, says, “Everything in the universe is connected, of course: it’s a matter of using imagination and research to discover the links and using language to expand and enliven them.”
* In mathematics and computer science, an algorithm is a step-by-step procedure for calculations. Algorithms are used for calculation, data processing, and automated reasoning. – WIKIPEDIA